Paws Up program brings smiles and comfort

8-year-old Alessandra with Driscoll Children’s Hospital Paws Up dog Ellie
If you’re at the hospital on Thursday or Sunday afternoons, you may have come upon one of Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s unique (and furry) volunteers. Paws Up volunteers are Pet Partner-registered service dogs, who bring compassionate comfort to patients and their families.

For National Animal Therapy Day, April 30, we are celebrating our four-legged friends and recognizing the amazing power behind animal therapy.

“The goals of the Paws Up program include normalizing the hospital environment for children, by providing familiar and satisfying activities that are associated with life at home,” said Lizette Saenz, Director of Volunteer Services.

Research shows that animal-assisted therapy improves emotional well-being, while reducing anxiety and pain. Pet handler Jennifer Turner can attest to the impact that the therapy dogs can make.

“Seeing the reactions from patients is a neat experience,” said Turner. “We visited a child that was confined to a bed for an entire year. It was a tough adjustment for them to transition into a wheelchair, but reaching for Zoe helped distract them from the pain.”

Turner and her dog Zoe have provided support to Driscoll patients for five years, and Turner has been a Paws Up volunteer for the last 17 years. The duo is one of ten handler/dog teams that make up the Paws Up program at Driscoll.

Just like any other Driscoll volunteer, the dogs sport a blue uniform with the Auxiliary to Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s emblem embroidered on it. Every Paws Up dog that visits Driscoll has been bathed and groomed, temperament tested, and both dog and handler have passed the Pet Partners registration program. In 2018, they brought smiles to 454 patients, families and visitors.

Thank you to all of the therapy animals, along with their dedicated handlers, who are making a pawsitive impact at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.