St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital welcomes two staff members

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Puggle and Huckleberry met their work family at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in a town hall meeting over lunch Monday, Sept. 16. When the new hires came down the aisle of the packed theater in the Marlo Thomas Center for Global Education and Collaboration, the
whole room, balcony included, turned to the kind of mush Memphis usually reserves for The Peabody ducks.

On stage, Dr. James Downing, president and CEO, was smiling as hard as anyone as the two bounded on stage and took their places at the feet of their owners, but not before one nosed Downing’s hand-held microphone, sending a gentle puffing sound into the adoring audience and setting off another round of cellphone clicks and coos.

“Now, we’ll respond to questions,” Downing said. “If you set down your phone, you can raise your hand,” he said with a chuckle. The golden retriever (Puggle) and goldendoodle are the first workers in the hospital’s new Paws at Play program. The dogs (born late in 2017) have
been specifically trained to be at St. Jude, where they will each see four to six patients a day, doing what big, fine specimens of their breeds do best – calm and comfort.

The request for the program came from the hospital’s Patient Family Experience office. Downing didn’t have to hear it out. “I just said yes,” he said. On Tuesdays, hospital volunteers bring their dogs. Downing stops on his way to get coffee to scruff a few ears. “It’s the unconditional love a dog gives everyone,” he said.

In an instant, Downing could picture dogs in hospital and procedure rooms. “When we have patients undergoing spinals taps, it’s very traumatic,” he said. “The dogs could be there to calm them down.”

St. Jude’s patients range from the newly diagnosed to those near the end of their lives. Downing sees Puggle and Huckleberry being a comfort every step of the way. “Our goal is always to make every day as possibly good as it can be. This is part of it,” he said. Puggle and Huckleberry come from Canine Assistants in Milton, Georgia, where they have been in training since they were 4 days old. They arrived on campus early Monday….

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