Feel Good Friday Series: Child Life – Why a Facility Dog?

For kids with a chronic illness, spending weeks and sometimes months at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is required. Not only are these pediatric patients dealing with life threatening illnesses, they are away from home, missing the comfort of their normal routines.

Child life specialists and creative arts therapists are trained to help children to cope with hospitalization and continue to grow and develop while in treatment. Children and their families are provided with a number of different opportunities designed to reduce anxiety and promote effective coping. One of these involves a care team member whose actions speak louder than words. Meet Huggie.

Huggie, a black lab, crawling up on child life specialist's lap while she sits in an infusion room chair at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Child life specialist Jennifer Belke with Huggie the Facility Dog in the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center infusion room.

Huggie the Facility Dog

The only four-legged member of the child life team and first-ever facility dog at UC Davis Health, Huggie helps kids treated at the Pediatric Infusion Room. Huggie works his magic, normalizing the environment and mitigating some of the stress or pain pediatric patients may be experiencing. A study by UC Davis pediatric oncologist Anjali Pawar proved that pediatric patients who received regular visits from a facility dog during treatment experienced a decrease in stress and anxiety.

Huggie’s presence at the Cancer Center is thanks to Canine Companions for Independence which provided the dog free of charge; Children’s Miracle Network donors; and Huggie’s “mom”, child life specialist Jenny. This dynamic duo lives and works together, sharing everything, including their dedication to helping children, families and the care team alike.

A patient hand reaching out from under a blanket to hold the paw of Huggie, a black lab.

Holding Huggie’s paw makes it easier to get through a procedure.

“Huggie has been an amazing addition,” Belke said. “He has assisted the medical team with assessing patients, helped children connect with other children to through play and grooming and encouraged children to walk and move when it may have been difficult otherwise.”

These photos capture Huggie at work, providing procedural support to a patient having a dressing change. She was anxious so she held and stroked Huggie’s paw throughout the procedure.

Patient laying in bed with her iPad propped up on the dog, a black lab, as he lays next to her.

Huggie the Facility Dog provides assistance in more ways than one.


In another instance, the dog helped normalize the environment by lying in bed with the patient as if they were at home. Huggie also doubles as a table.

From comforting a teenager who wanted a cuddle, to helping minimize neurological damage following a stroke by making it possible for the child to follow the doctor’s orders to lie still, Huggie serves many therapeutic purposes. Patients and their families cannot say enough about what an impact he has on the children … and on them.

“My son Hudson was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. Since then, he has endured more than anyone should ever have to,” says mom, Julie. “As his mom, I have done my best to comfort him but there are times when it’s just not enough.”

“That’s when Huggie comes in!” He has brought so much happiness to Hudson, his brother and to me, too.” Charles Shultz said many years ago is spot on … happiness IS a warm puppy. Especially when that “puppy” is a highly trained facility dog like Huggie.

The hope is to eventually have three or four dogs placed at UC Davis Health to provide pediatric patient support. Donations to Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department through Children’s Miracle Network fundraising campaigns, as well as donations to the Facility Dog Fund, will contribute to that goal. Donate here: https://give.ucdavis.edu/CHLD/9200629.

By | 2019-09-23T22:03:59+00:00 March 22, 2019|Uncategorized|