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Six-year-old Hadley has a special friend she looks forward to seeing during her visits to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford: Donatella, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever.

Donatella, affectionately known as “Donnie,” and her canine colleagues are part of the Packard Paws Facility Dog Program, providing pet assisted therapy for patients, their families, and care team members at our hospital.

“The dogs enhance children’s experience in the midst of treatment,” says Susan Kinnebrew, MHA, CCLS, director of the Child Life and Creative Arts Department. “And not only that, they provide incredible therapeutic value to parents and staff as well.”

Packard Paws is the vision of Donnie’s handler, child life specialist Molly Pearson, CCLS, CFLE, and physician assistant Alyssa Giacalone, PA-C. In January 2018, a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever named Echo became Packard Children’s first facility dog and was quickly joined by 5-year-old Labradoodle, Sonya. Canine Companions for Independence then donated Donnie to the program.

Each facility dog makes about 50 visits per month, totaling more than 1,800 visits each year. They have extensive formal training and are assigned to specific units. Echo accompanies Giacalone and another physician assistant, Geovanna Suarez, PA-C, to visit patients in the Betty Irene Moore Children’s Heart Center and the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. Sonya and her handler, psychologist Rashmi Bhandari, PhD, work with patients at our Pediatric Pain Management Clinic in Menlo Park.

When Donnie is meeting with patients like Hadley, it is often in the Treatment Center as a child is preparing for a procedure. Hadley and her younger sister, Sloane, have undergone a number of surgeries at the hospital, and the difference before and after Donnie’s arrival is remarkable.

“The last time Sloane was here, Donnie rode with her on the gurney into the pre-op area,” says Hadley and Sloane’s mom, Helen. “Sloane was really stressed at first, but she and Donnie became best friends. It makes such a difference.”

Donnie and Her Donors

Packard Paws exists only because of philanthropy.

Each dog is provided with a new crate, bed, and grooming supplies, and their handlers hand out personalized trading cards and stuffed replicas of the dogs to patients they meet every day. Thanks to ongoing support from Children’s Fund donors like you, as well as a recent $25,000 gift made by the San Jose Auxiliary, the program has had an amazing impact on our patients, families, and staff. Kinnebrew hopes that with continued Children’s Fund support, the program can expand with more facility dogs in more units in the future.

Thank you for being there for Hadley, Sloane, and so many others at Packard Children’s through your gift to the Children’s Fund.

“I am really grateful that my daughters, and all of the other patients here, have such great care, and that includes Donnie,” says Helen. “Thank you so much for your support.”

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Children's Fund Update.

Photography credit: Toni Bird