As job requirements go, these are unusual by most standards. Candidates must complete a rigorous six to 18 month-long training program, possess the skill and experience to spread joy wherever they go and, yes, have a wagging tail. That’s just some of what it takes to become a service dog for the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation’s Dogs for Joy program. In August, three cute canines checked every box, and made their debut as full-time, in-residence, service dogs at hospitals across the country. Litta, a chocolate lab is a new staff member at the Children’s Hospital at OU Medicine in Oklahoma City; Dilly, a yellow lab, is working with patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Bob, a golden retriever, is settling in at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Since 2018, the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation (Dunkin’ Joy) has provided grants for these highly qualified dogs to nestle in to hospitals where they are most needed. The funding provides for the adoption of the trained dog, supports his or her cost of living once they are placed in a hospital, and covers additional costs. This innovative program is helping increase the number of dogs working full-time in hospitals, an expensive budget item that many hospitals simply can’t afford.
Considered members of the hospital staff, the dogs serve as an important clinical tool for doctors, nurses and therapists. They also provide medical support for all different kinds of needs, including helping teach young patients how to take a pill and giving them a gentle wet nose nudge to get up out of bed and go for a walk. In addition to these highly specialized tasks, the dogs are a calming presence and help patients manage anxiety, stress and pain.
With the addition of Litta, Dilly and Bob, the program has now granted 15 full-time service dogs to a dozen hospitals in as many states; it is a perfect fit for the foundation’s mission—to provide the simple joys of childhood to kids battling hunger or illness.
“We talked with doctors, nurses, child life specialists, parents and patients to find out what they really needed to bring joy to children and families in the midst of these stressful, hard, medical challenges,” says April McGonnigal, senior manager at Dunkin’ Joy. “Dogs kept rising to the top of those conversations and we were really drawn to it as a unique program for us.”
Victor Carvalho, a Dunkin’ franchisee and Co-Chair of the foundation, says this unique program is also a perfect fit for the brand. “The Dunkin’ brand has a very homey feel and often takes you back to a comforting time in your life. When you’re in an environment that isn’t always the friendliest, sometimes for weeks or months, it can be scary for a child, and these dogs bring comfort. As franchisees, that’s what we want to do, whether it’s for our guests or children battling illnesses, and these dogs help a lot.”
Helping bring that kind of comfort to pediatric patients is absolutely priceless in a hospital community, says Andrea Colliton. As the Director of Child Life Services at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Bob is her newest co-worker. The golden retriever was named after the minion from the “Despicable Me” movie and trained by Canine Assistants, a non-profit, service dog school based in Georgia. In just a short time in the hospital, the four-legged staffer is already getting glowing reviews.
“The calming effects that Bob has had on our pediatric patients and their families are huge. Many of our families have dogs or other pets at home. Bob’s presence helps normalize the hospital environment and can show children that we all really care about their physical and mental health,” Colliton says. “As soon as we walk down the hallway, all the patients, families and staff light up with smiles. Even with everyone wearing masks, you can tell they’re grinning from ear to ear.”
Because Bob works in the hospital full-time, 40-hours a week, Monday through Friday, his schedule is packed with lots of opportunities to unleash those smiles. As part of the program, Bob lives at the home of Anne Marie Sirois, the hospital’s Director of Volunteer Services and together, Sirois and Colliton manage his schedule. While there is really no such thing as a typical day in a hospital setting, many are surprised to learn that Bob’s days are set up quite a bit like those of his human colleagues. Here’s a look:
8:30am: Bob arrives with Sirois, visits with staff and volunteers on the way to the office and then spends the morning greeting patients and families arriving at the hospital.
10:30am: Bob heads to the pediatric medical/surgical unit and the pediatric intensive care unit to work with patients.
12:00pm: Break time includes a trip outside to go to the bathroom, and then Bob takes a rest in the office while his human colleagues catch up on emails.
1:00pm: Bob makes the rounds to see patients and staff who have placed a consult for a furry face to face meeting.
3:00pm: An afternoon recharge means a game of fetch on the hospital’s fenced in rooftop play deck, followed by an office rest.
4:30pm: Bob ends his workday, saying good night to patients and co-workers on the way to the parking garage
Colliton points out that, like any employee, Bob’s schedule and responsibilities will evolve over time as they identify and balance patient needs while also being mindful of Bob’s own need for down time. She also notes that family and patient consent are received before Bob works with any child. While his role is primarily to work with pediatric patients, Bob has a significant impact on everyone he crosses paths with.
“During a time when morale has been a little low due to these unprecedented times, Bob has brought light and joy to our patients, families and staff,” says Colliton. She describes the mother of a teen patient lying with Bob commenting that this was the happiest she had seen her daughter all week. At the same time, staff are so thrilled to work with Bob, they want to change their work schedule to spend more time with him!
Anecdotes like these are common in hospitals welcoming Dogs for Joy. While Bob and the other therapy dogs are there primarily to work with patients, the benefits for staff are undeniable. “It’s a win-win on every level for our hospital,” says Erin Gilbert, Executive Director of Development at Tufts Medical Center. “Having a dog like Bob as a permanent part of our medical care team provides true, unconditional love for our patients which is something you don’t always have in a hospital setting. At the same time, he is a morale booster for our staff, too.”
Gilbert admits the in-residence dog program at their hospital could never have been considered without the grant from Dunkin’ Joy. “We are so grateful to the Foundation and franchisees who made this incredible resource available to our hospital. Without their support, Bob would absolutely not be with us today.”
Among its many initiatives, the foundation’s Dogs for Joy program has helped forge a special partnership between Dunkin’, the dogs and the hospitals. Dogs like Bob, Litta and Dilly are not only helping the healing process but also bringing joy every step of the way. “We are along for this journey with our hospital partners,” says McGonnigal. “From the day we tell them we’re granting – which is one of the best days in the office – to the day they get their dogs, this program is so meaningful for all of us.”
It’s particularly meaningful for franchise owners and their employees who welcome an opportunity to give back to their communities and provide comfort and joy for children. “Franchisees are very giving,” says Carvalho. “It’s a great feeling to pull together and support these kids and this program. Nothing feels better than helping children. Just talking about it makes my day.”