Category Archives: PAWH Program

Pet Therapy Volunteer Program on CBS Early Show!

This morning, the CBS Early Show highlighted Children’s pet therapy program! Click here to view video from the CBS Early Show.


Shots from CBS Early Show: Volunteer team Karen & Reba work with Nicole and a child during a therapy session.

Children’s Pets Assisting With Healing (PAWH) program includes more than 25 “dog teams” and two bunnies who visit patients on our inpatient units and other areas of the hospital, as well as working with patients during rehab appointments. The CBS Early Show story follows two PAWH teams working with patients and families in the Rehab Department at Children’s-St. Paul:  Heather Gillen and her dog, Angel (a Bichon Frise Mix), and Karen Sheahan and her dog, Reba, (a Keeshond).

Our dog teams work closely with therapists during their sessions with patients. Occupational therapist Nicole Iammatteo-Lindstrom describes the work of Karen and Reba this way: “Karen always comes to our therapy sessions with enthusiasm and excitement for the children that I see for Occupational Therapy. We work with a little boy,  Jake, who truly looks forward to our sessions because of having Karen and Reba there, and all the fun and goofy things we get to do as a team. Jake enjoys hearing stories about Reba and her agility competitions, and asks about how a dog  goes through the courses and what kind of training a dog would need to complete an agility course. Karen took the time to make up a variety of agility dog course mazes that exercise the visual motor and fine motor skills that Jake needs to work on. I’m  truly thankful to have such a great team to work with on a weekly basis and feel  honored by their time and commitment.”

Thank you to all of our PAWH teams who do such amazing work here at Children’s Hospital.  The difference you’re making in the lives of children and their families is incredible!

Children’s PAWH Program Featured On Fox 9 News!

“As an infant, Kadin did all the things that melt a mother’s heart. By the time he reached a year and a half, however, he was disconnecting from everyone–even his mom. He would scream a lot, wouldn’t sleep, and struggled to communicate.”  -Jeff Baillon, Fox 9 News

Kadin is a patient who received occupational therapy here at Children’s.  His story was featured on Fox 9 news today, and chronicles the time that he spent with Sasha, one of our wonderful Children’s therapy dogs.  (Sasha  helped Kadin so much in his journey with autism that Kadin’s family ended up adopting their own service dog, specially trained to work with kids with autism.)

THANK YOU, PAWH volunteers, for the incredible work that you do in promoting healing & supporting our patients! Check out the full article and video here.

(Pictured below:  Sasha, pictured solo and with all-star handler Dave Kettering!)

 1st Sasha pictures by Dick 035                 Dave & Sasha

PAWH Success Stories!

We love our PAWH (Pets Assisting With Healing) volunteers!  The following pictures and anecdotes illustrate the impact that animal-assisted therapy can have on the patients and families here at Children’s.
“Karen (Sheahan) and Reba (pictured, above) have been a great help to a 5-year-old boy who has been seen in occupational therapy. Karen and Reba are always up for trying anything that is suggested, and I greatly appreciate it! Reba got all pretty with her collar and colorful feathers stuck in her fur by the patient to prepare for a special walk where Reba wore her snow boots if the patient walked with bare feet! Barefoot exploration is very difficult for this little boy, but Reba was a great motivator and distraction to complete a full walk around the department on various surfaces! A great accomplishment! Thank you!”  -Occupational Therapist LeAnn Sagerer
“Bogart (pictured, above, with handler Kristen Kenney) assisted my client with learning how to form shapes as he had quite the surface area to practice on. This child used a paintbrush to practice the large strokes on Bogart. She thought it was hilarious to paint on a dog and even more silly when Bogart moved and she lost control over where the paintbrush was going. She also worked on crossing midline with rainbows that arched over Bogart’s back. She was very proud of her artwork, and having Bogart present was incredibly motivating for her!” -Occupational Therapist Emily DeBreto 

Thank-You from Children’s Patient & Family


It warmed our hearts to receive the following thank-you note from the mother of a Children’s patient (Maddy, pictured above with therapy dog Sasha):

“I just wanted to send you a note to let you know how much the dog visits mean to my daughter Maddy.   Maddy has been in the hospital for almost 6 weeks now.  It has been very difficult to be going through so much medically and to be away from home and away from her own pets.

She has had many dog visits, and it is hard to express in words how wonderful it is when they come in her room. It really brightens her day. It brings normalcy into her life at a time when things are anything but normal. The dogs are able to turn her mood around instantly. These dogs are so sweet and warm and lovable, and that is exactly what she needs for her recovery.

I really want to thank the owners of these dogs for taking the time to have them trained and certified, and for all the time they take bringing the dogs to the hospital. In these times when everyone is rushing around everyday trying to get so many things done, these wonderful people take time out of their busy schedules to come to visit the children here. It is very obvious what big hearts these volunteers have.

Our family very much appreciates these kind people, these kind animals and this amazing program which has brought so much good into our daughter’s life.

Blessings to you all,

Eileen Hawkins”

We couldn’t express our thanks any better than this!  Thank you so much to all of our dedicated pet therapy volunteers!

Volunteers Are Service Stars: John & Stella Zabel

John and Stella Zabel have been volunteering at Children’s for almost 2 years.  This PAWH team has made a difference in the hospital stays of many children.  Stella is a 7-year-old Labrador Retriever who is a Delta Society Registered Pet Partner;  she and her handler, John, visit Children’s Hospital once a week.  Recently, John and Stella came in for a special request, and it didn’t go unnoticed!


Nicole Iammatteo, Occupational Therapist, writes:

“John and Stella – I wanted to say ‘thank you’ for your work with myself and my patient today.  You are so incredibly gifted and can work well with these kiddos.  Your calm demeanor is wonderful and what you and your dog bring is a gift that I’m honored to have with me during therapy.  I would never make the gains that I do without you and Stella.  You’re incredible.”

Thank you so much, John & Stella, for lending a hand (and paw) to our pet therapy program!

Maggie the Golden Retriever: An Inspiring “Tail!”

Bonnie & Maggie Ask are new additions to the PAWH (Pets Assisting With Healing) team on the St. Paul campus.  With Bonnie’s help, Maggie has become a registered therapy dog through the Delta Society.  Last week, Bonnie & Maggie assisted occupational therapist Emily DeBreto with one of her sessions.  Emily’s patient was working on handwriting and grasping skills with a writing tool.  To make the session fun and interesting, Emily asked the patient to interview Bonnie about Maggie.  After the patient finished her interview, she turned it into a story and wrote it on paper.  This patient learned sentence-building without even knowing it!

Maggie's Story Bonnie and Maggie

Huge thanks to Bonnie and Maggie!

PAWH Website Live!


Children’s Volunteer Services has developed a dedicated PAWH Programs web page for those who want to learn more about what volunteers and their furry friends do at Children’s.  This page outlines information about (and requirements for) becoming a PAWH volunteer at Children’s, and also features our newly-produced PAWH Program video!

Children’s Hospital has utilized therapy dogs since 2004.  The program started with one volunteer and his fluffy white dog.  Since the culmination of the program, we have expanded into a system-wide service.  Volunteers and their dogs visit multiple units on both main hospital campuses and work with rehab clinics at all 6 sites (Woodbury, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Roseville, St. Paul, and Minneapolis).  Our volunteer pool has also increased to over 20 dog/handler teams.

For more information on registered therapy animals, visit the Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program.