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Paws at Play therapy dogs help St. Jude patients cope with difficult treatments

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 11:27 AM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The young patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are going through what will likely be some of the toughest times of their lives.

Staff at St. Jude don’t only treat these children’s ailing bodies, but also their hearts, minds, and souls. That’s where the Paws at Play program comes in.

“They walk alongside patients during some of their most difficult journeys,” says Paws at Play handler and Child Life Specialist Shandra Taylor. “They’re also there to celebrate their successes and milestones as well.”

Huckleberry, the therapy dog Taylor handles, and Puggle, handled by Child Life Specialist Brittany Reed, are two of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s most beloved staff members.

”It’s amazing when you walk into a room how the mood changes,” said Reed.

For the past two years, these trained therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers are there for playtime, “just allowing kids to be kids,” said Reed; however, the Paws at Play program also has clinical goals in mind.

“[Huckleberry] has an innate ability that really allows him to connect with patients and form such unique bonds and build a rapport that then allows me to make an assessment and provide a specific intervention,” said Taylor.

”When we’re walking the hospital, it’s funny: sometimes he’ll just stop in front of a room as if he’s telling me, mom, we really need to go see that patient,” said Reed. “Sure enough, when we enter that room, there is a need.”

Beyond providing comfort and snuggles, the pups are trained to do what’s called “medical play.” Patients can listen to their heartbeat or take their blood pressure, which helps kids understand what’s happening to them in the hospital, too.

”He’s really able to perform a special bond with a patient that goes beyond anything that we as humans can offer,” Taylor said of Huckleberry.

Huckleberry and Puggle are specially trained dogs that are still just dogs, too. With smiles, Taylor and Reed talk about their charges’ favorite activities.

“[Puggle} is a gentle giant,” said Reed. “I think sometimes he forgets how big he is because he’ll try to sit in your lap.”

”[Huckleberry] also loves to play with squeaky toys,” Taylor said. “The louder the squeak, the better.”

Paws at Play is one of the many programs St. Jude offers to its patients and their families, entirely free of charge.

The St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway is going on now for Brazos Valley residents. Reserve your ticket today to win a $235,000 brand new house in Bryan’s Rudder Pointe neighborhood.

If you reserve a ticket by May 20, you will also be entered to win a $10,000 gift card courtesy of the Dream Day Foundation.

Visit DreamHome.org or call (800) 219-8230 to reserve your ticket.

You can also see the St. Jude Dream Home yourself by visiting an open house, Saturdays 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Sundays 1 - 4 p.m. through May 30.

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