Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital  introduce hospital’s full-time facility dog

Squid, facility dog at Children's Hospital, poses for a photo. Photo by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt Medical Center

It’s no secret that pets make our lives happier and healthier, especially in these times of uncertainty. For many families, the benefits pets provide will now come at a time and place they may never have expected: during their child’s hospital stay in the middle of a pandemic.

In February 2020, Squid, a Canine Companions for Independence® (Canine Companions) facility dog, joined the Patient- and Family-Centered Care team at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He arrived shortly before COVID-19 impacted the local community.

With visitors to the hospital limited due to social distancing health safety measures, Squid arrived on the job just in time to engage with patients and staff through this stressful time of unknowns. 

As a Canine Companions certified facility dog, Squid, a 2-year-old black Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, has undergone extensive and highly specialized training for the last two years. Squid can perform more than 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire patients to obtain treatment goals. In addition to engaging patients in their treatment, the dog provides comfort and affection to support families and hospital staff experiencing the impact of intense medical situations.

The Facility Dog Program at Children’s Hospital was established through collaboration with Mars Petcare to support a full-time facility dog and a staff position for coordination of the program, with the overall goal of showing the positive impact a facility dog can have on patients, families and staff.

Squid assists handlers Leslie Grissim, MA, CCLS, facility dog coordinator, and Erin Munn, child life specialist 3, during their work with patients.

“This has been three years in the making,” said Janet Cross, MEd, CCLS, CPXP, administrative director, Patient- and Family-Centered Care at Children’s Hospital. “We have been keeping our fingers on the pulse of what is new and innovative that can be used to engage people in healing. Facility dogs fit that bill for our hospital. There has been a lot of evidence around the effectiveness of facility dogs in the medical setting.”

“We have a well-established pet partner program and seeing how successful those teams are at engaging our patients and families … a facility dog will take that engagement to a higher level. Squid was bred for this kind of work.”

“Now more than ever, people are turning to pets for comfort and companionship, and we can’t wait to see the positive impact Squid has for the children, families, and staff at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt,” said Mark Johnson, President of Mars Petcare North America. “We’re thrilled to partner with the team at Vanderbilt to bring this facility dog program to life.”

Together with Mars Petcare, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital will work to harness the power of pets to improve the health of patients.