Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Welcomes Its First Full-Time Facility Dog

Published on in CHOP News

Photo of Dilly, CHOP's first full-time facility dog Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has officially welcomed its first, full-time trained facility dog, who will help ease anxiety and reduce stress for young patients and their families. SSD Dilly (or Dilly for short), a two-year-old yellow Labrador funded by the Dunkin' Joy in Childhood Foundation and Hope in the Air Foundation, was raised and trained by Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), a program of Keystone Human Services that raises, trains and places service dogs and hearing dogs, as well as facility dogs, to assist children and adults with disabilities to become more independent.

Facility dogs can be a critical part of treatment teams, trained to do tasks like teach children how to take a pill, keep them calm during medical interventions, provide incentives for them to get out of bed for a walk, and much more. In partnership with their designated handler, these dogs are trained to have a positive impact on the healing process.

“Dilly will be a wonderful tool in the toolbox for our Child Life team, as well as other clinical partners like our physical, occupational and speech therapists,” said Lisa Serad, program coordinator for the Gerald B. Shreiber Pet Therapy Program at CHOP. “There are so many times we knock on a patient’s door, and the patient simply glows when they see a dog. It makes it so much easier to build rapport and motivate many of our patients with a furry four-legged partner!”

In 2019, CHOP received philanthropic support from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation’s Dogs for Joy program and Hope in the Air Foundation to help establish a facility dog program and begin the process of obtaining a facility dog, which included an application process, multiple interviews, and “Meet the Dogs” sessions to help ensure the chosen facility dog was a good match for CHOP. Elizabeth Olsen, a Certified Child Life Specialist at CHOP and Dilly’s handler, along with two back-up handlers and Serad, completed extensive training at SSD with Dilly in July before his arrival at CHOP.

“These special dogs not only bring joy to children battling illness but serve an important role within a child's treatment team. By joining the CHOP team, Dilly will provide comfort and joy to so many pediatric patients and their family members,” said Kari McHugh, Executive Director of the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation. “The Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation is always seeking ways to help kids feel like kids, even on their most difficult days. Nothing brings joy more than four paws, a wet nose, and a wagging tail.”

While CHOP patients and families are already familiar with hospital volunteers and their registered therapy dogs as part of the Gerald B. Shreiber Pet Therapy Program, Dilly’s role will be different. He will work with a CHOP staff member, focusing on goal-oriented visits rather than social-oriented visits that our volunteers and their registered therapy dogs are accustomed to providing. Facility dogs are often used in physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions, for procedural support, and to help with ambulation, distraction, and coping skills.

“Anyone that owns or has owned a dog knows the sound their collar makes is something you become familiar with and in some way, it provides a sense of reassurance,” said Chris Miller with the Hope in the Air Foundation. “With the launch of the Facility Dog Program within the CHOP facilities, it is our hope this new sound in the halls will bring reassurance to patients, patient families and staff, and that they will be able to overcome whatever they are facing. Hope in the Air is proud to be a part of this exciting new program at CHOP and we recognize that this would not be possible without the overwhelming generosity of our supporters.”