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Helping paws: OHSU Doernbecher expands Hospital Facility Dog Program

Two-year-old golden retriever ‘Davis’ joins hospital staff, brings smiles to young patients, families
golden retriever on the hospital bed with a young boy, who is petting the dog. they are looking one another in the face.
OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital therapy dog, Davis, visits with Connor Zimmerman, 8, in September 2018. Doernbecher is the only hospital in the Northwest and among the few in the U.S. with two hospital therapy dogs, who can help make the hospital feel less frightening. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

A snuggle a day may not keep the doctor away, but it can certainly help make hospital visits a little more enjoyable.

In 2015, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital introduced Hope, a now 5-year-old English cream golden retriever, as its first full-time hospital facility dog. Each week, Hope makes bedside visits to approximately 20 Doernbecher patients and their families, giving snuggles that help distract from discomfort,  ease anxiety before surgical procedures, or simply lighten the spirit of a child that longs for the comforts of home.

Inspired by the continued success of Hope’s presence, Doernbecher has expanded its Hospital Facility Dog Program to include Davis, a 2-year-old standard golden retriever. With the addition of Davis, Doernbecher becomes the only children’s hospital in the Pacific Northwest, and one of only a handful across the United States, to employ more than one full-time facility dog.

therapy dogs davis and hope sitting side by side outside
OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital therapy dogs Davis (left) and Hope. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“Not all medicine is administered by doctors or nurses,” said Dana Braner, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.C.C.M., Credit Unions for Kids chair and professor of pediatrics (critical care medicine), OHSU School of Medicine; and physician-in-chief, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “Animals offer true healing powers that, for many patients, complement the results of traditional medical treatments. With Hope and Davis as a part of our patient-care team, we are now able to provide the most complete care to more children than ever before.” 

Hope and Davis are specially trained by Assistance Dogs of Hawaii and Assistance Dogs Northwest to provide love and compassion in a hospital environment. They live and report to work with OHSU employees certified in animal-assisted therapy, including Braner, licensed clinical social worker Kristin Knight, L.C.S.W., and Sandra Westfall, M.S., C.C.L.S., manager of the Doernbecher Child Life program.

Both dogs are considered OHSU staff members, complete with official ID badges: Hope is chief canine officer, and Davis serves as vice chair for canine affairs.

Despite these prestigious titles, Braner says Hope and Davis really only have one very important job: to make the hospital’s young patients and families feel better.

And by all accounts, they are succeeding.

“We stay at Doernbecher multiple times per year for various tests and treatments,” said Tiffany Zimmerman, mother of 8-year-old Connor, who lives with a yet-to-be diagnosed gastrointestinal condition. “Before each visit, Connor gets nervous. Then, he remembers that he will get to see Hope and Davis. Just the thought of them is calming and gives our entire family something to look forward to.”

Meet Hope and Davis

Hope headshot (2018)

Name: Hope

Title: Chief canine officer

Age: 5

Birthday: April 21

Joined OHSU Doernbecher: 2015

Favorite command: “snuggle”


Davis headshot (2018)

 Name: Davis

 Title: Vice chair for canine affairs

 Age: 2

 Birthday: June 26

 Joined OHSU Doernbecher: 2018

 Favorite command: “shake” and “snuggle”

Additional information about Hope and Davis, as well as volunteer animal-assisted therapy teams who visit OHSU and Doernbecher, is available here

The presence of Hope and Davis at Doernbecher was made possible by the family of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation board member Kate McCoy.



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