Medical Dogs Help Bring the Power of Healing Pets to Patients


Please welcome the newest members of the Dell Children’s team! Junie, Reba and Savannah have joined our staff as working medical dogs in our new program called emBark!  The four-legged friends are Dell Children’s first full-time medical dogs and will provide support and motivation for patients. Medical dogs are highly trained service dogs, and will assist the child life team with support during medical procedures. 

There is an important distinction between a pet therapy program and the medical facility dog program. Pet therapy provides recreation or social visits facilitated by volunteers, visiting 1-2 times a month around the whole hospital. Medical dog programs provide goal oriented clinical interventions facilitated by full time, credentialed, employee handlers, working 40 hours a week. 

 Dell Children’s and PetSmart Charities know that pets have the remarkable ability to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, improve our mood and bring us unconditional love. That’s why, with the help of a $75,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, emBark! is aiming to improve quality of life and provide a healthy diversion from the usual hospital routine for children while receiving treatment.

In the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit alongside primary handler Sierra Herbort, CCLS and secondary handler Chaplain Chris Dunn we have Junie. In the Hematology Oncology Unit alongside primary handler Kelly Wagner, CCLS and secondary handler Jen Brown, NP we have Reba. In the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center alongside primary handler Catie Reed, CCLS and secondary handler Dr. Sasha Jaquez, psychologist, we have Savannah.

The medical dogs have been carefully matched with their Certified Child Life Specialist handlers by Canine Companions for Independence.  Since 1975, Canine Companions has bred, raised and expertly trained assistance dogs in over 40 commands designed to assist people with disabilities or to motivate and inspire clients with special needs and pediatric patients.