A two-year-old female golden retriever named Sprout welcomes children needing care at Sacred Heart in Pensacola. Sprout and her Child Life handler Julia Humphries know the halls well at our Children’s Hospital. This service dog is trained as a certified facility dog by Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization based in Milton, Georgia. This organization trains and provides service dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities or other special needs.
As a Sacred Heart child life specialist, Julia is the primary handler for Sprout, but other staff are also involved. Sprout’s education was intensive and before she could be part of the hospital environment, she needed to follow special commands and behavior. She always wears a service-dog vest and knows her job is to primarily work with patients and families in the Pediatric Infusion Center. The pediatric hematology and oncology care center is at the Children’s Hospital.
“Since Sprout arrived, she’s already brought significant comfort, happiness and motivation to our patients and families,” said Humphries. “For many patients, playing with a dog can help make the hospital feel more like home. Sprout’s presence might encourage a child to go for a walk, socialize with others or participate in therapies. Research has shown that dogs can reduce stress and help make people feel better both emotionally and physically. One study has even shown that 15 minutes of working with a dog reduces a child’s pain at a level comparable to an adult taking a dose of acetaminophen.”
Humphries brings Sprout to “work” each morning, Monday through Friday, and takes her home at the end of the work day. When not at work, Sprout lives like a normal pet, relaxing and playing with Humphries at her home. When working, Sprout is given regular trips outside and has a quiet space to herself in The Children’s Hospital.
“It’s really amazing to see Sprout in action," said Humphries. “Whether Sprout is bringing a smile to a teenager’s face while lying next to them, being a source of strength and comfort to a child who is scared during the placement of an IV or being given the grand tour of the toy shelves in the playroom by a child who is in need of distraction from a long day of therapy, she is always ready to meet our children exactly where they are in any given moment. Sprout also provides love and support to our wonderful and dedicated staff when they are in need.”
To learn more about child life services at Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, call 850-416-2657