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OHSU Doernbecher welcomes ‘Chief Cuddling Officer,’ expanding Hospital Facility Dog Program

Casey helps comfort OHSU’s smallest patients, families in the Neonatal Intensive Care, Labor and Delivery, and Mother-Baby units
Casey lays on the lap of a patient in his bed.
A pediatric patient relaxes with Casey, the newest Hospital Facility Dog to join OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Casey comes from Assistance Dogs Northwest to help provide comfort and companionship for visitors and children staying at Doernbecher. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

The new employee is most recognizable by her signature sparkly pink bow. Her name is Casey, and she’s the newest member of the Hospital Facility Dog Program at Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Casey — a 2-year-old half golden retriever, half yellow lab — in October joined current Hospital Facility dogs Hope and Davis in bringing smiles to young patients, family members and staff. She recently completed her additional on-site training.

In addition to increasing the number of visits the team can provide, Casey’s arrival means more units are able to receive regular visits. She and her handler and caretaker, Nikki Wiggins, M.S.N., RN, CCRN-K, NE-BC, nurse manager in OHSU Doernbecher’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, visit patient families in the NICU, and Labor and Delivery and the Mother-Baby units.

“We’re thrilled to be able to expand our Hospital Facility Dog Program to serve more patients and families than ever before,” said Dana Braner, M.D., FAAP, FCCM, professor of pediatrics (critical care medicine) in the OHSU School of Medicine, and physician-in-chief for OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “Hope, Davis and now Casey offer an additional level of comfort and healing that enables us to provide the best, most complete care possible.”

When working in the NICU, Casey visits with family members of some of OHSU’s smallest patients, approaching them to receive pats, take photos and generally provide a small dose of normalcy.

“The NICU can be a really hard place to be. Our families are here for a very long time, sometimes upwards of 100 days or more,” Wiggins said. “We want this to be a time that they can become resilient and grow as a family, so anything we can do to promote that is really important. Families have found Casey to be really comforting in terms of having the kind of interaction that they’re used to having in their home setting with their own pets.”

Over on the Mother-Baby and Labor and Delivery units, Casey provides a different kind of care, visiting patients before and after they give birth.

“For moms in beds or postpartum moms who have babies, Casey climbs in bed with them and does what we call a ‘snuggle,’” Wiggins said.

Casey also helps comfort families who have experienced loss in childbirth or in the NICU.

“It’s such an honor and a privilege to escort Casey through all of these different areas and witness the impact she makes,” Wiggins said. “When we have difficult conversations with families and share news that isn’t always positive, Casey provides an amazing benefit to them. She’s already touched so many lives in the short time that she has been at Doernbecher.”

Casey’s range of capabilities is a testament to her training at Assistance Dogs Northwest, a nonprofit organization where she went through 18 months of rigorous training, personality assessments and temperament checks to help decide where to place her. Once Casey was determined to be a good fit for OHSU Doernbecher, Wiggins met her at the Assistance Dogs Northwest campus on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where the two embarked on an intensive training camp that included testing, communication best practices and bonding, followed by onsite training and testing at OHSU.

In addition to visiting with patients and families at OHSU Doernbecher, Casey has made an impact on faculty and staff.

“Working in health care is hard right now, and it’s especially challenging working on a complex unit like the NICU,” Wiggins said. “Staff have remarked that Casey brightens their moods, improves morale and gives them something meaningful to look forward to. That sense of resiliency translates directly to our patients by improving the care that staff members are able to provide.”

Wiggins says she and Casey are enjoying working as a team around the hospital.

“Casey is so happy to be here,” she said. “It really is incredible to just go down the hallway with her — people know her, and it’s clear that Casey enjoys everyone she gets to interact with, meeting them wherever they are with whatever they need.”

The presence of Hope, Davis and Casey at OHSU Doernbecher is made possible by the philanthropy of the McCoy family, longtime supporters of the children’s hospital. Assistance Dogs Northwest donates the Facility Dogs and provides lifetime follow-up support for each Hospital Facility Dog team.

Meet our Hospital Facility Dogs

Hope sitting.
Hope (OHSU)

Name: Hope

Title: Chief canine officer
Age: 9
Birthday: April 21

Joined OHSU Doernbecher: 2015

Favorite command: “Snuggle”

 

Davis sitting.
Davis (OHSU)

Name: Davis

Title: Vice chair for canine affairs
Age: 5
Birthday: Jun 26

Joined OHSU Doernbecher: 2018

Favorite command: “Shake” and “snuggle”

 

Casey sitting.
Casey (OHSU)

Name: Casey

Title: Chief cuddling officer
Age: 2
Birthday: January 1

Joined OHSU Doernbecher: 2021

Favorite command: “Wave,” “snuggle” and “high five”

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