Baystate Children’s Hospital Welcomes First Facility Dog

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Children’s Hospital welcomed its first-ever facility dog, Isabela — Isa for short — who joined the team thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation. Baystate’s newest employee goes to work every day to provide animal-assisted therapy to pediatric patients, their families, and staff members. 

The foundation’s Dogs for Joy program seeks to increase the number of in-resident dogs in children’s hospitals across the country. Facility dogs like Isa are professionally trained to work in a healthcare setting. Unlike volunteer dogs that visit a hospital or medical center for a short time, facility dogs are at the hospital every day with their handlers.

In most cases, they are used exclusively for clinical work. The dogs can physically interact with patients to provide comfort and love. Trained to help with tasks like teaching kids how to take medication, keeping a child calm during medical intervention, and providing incentives for kids to get out of bed for a walk, these dogs serve as a source of happiness and provide a sense of normalcy for patients. Research shows that animal-assisted therapy can lower stress and anxiety levels, affect blood pressure, increase patient mobility, and provide an alternative focus from pain. They help patients lower their stress and anxiety and encourage them to complete their healthcare goals.

“Dogs like Isabela are often described as better than any medicine. They just know when someone needs comfort, support, and love, and they give it unconditionally without judgment and expect nothing in return,” said Dr. Charlotte Boney, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baystate. 

The program is made possible by the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation, the charitable organization powered by Dunkin’ and the generosity of its franchisees, partners, team members, and guests. The foundation’s mission is to provide the simple joys of childhood to kids battling hunger or illness, even on their most difficult days. Support for Isabela is also being provided through donations from Universal Electric and the UMass UDance Marathon event held last spring.

“We are thrilled to bring joy to patients and their families at Baystate Children’s Hospital through our Dogs for Joy program,” said April McGonnigal, director of the Joy in Childhood Foundation. “We have seen the incredible impact that these special pups bring to children’s hospitals throughout the country and look forward to seeing the meaningful impact that Isa has on the patients, staff, and families at Baystate.”

Isabela, a golden retriever, was born and raised at Canine Assistants in Milton, Ga., a nonprofit organization that teaches and provides service dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities or other special needs. In 2009, it partnered with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to create a groundbreaking community-service dog program which has now grown nationwide. To date, Canine Assistants has placed more than 80 facility dogs around the country.