Facility Dog Hazel Puts Patients at Ease at Methodist Children’s Hospital

Comfort dog on hospital bed with female patient

Sit, stay, and heal takes on new meaning at affiliate Methodist Children’s Hospital, as the San Antonio, Texas-based facility welcomed their newest staff member earlier this week – Hazel, a 2-year-old golden retriever.

Woman with hospital comfort dog

Hazel is unlike any other therapy dog to paw around the hospital. She is the first-ever certified facility dog in Central and South Texas and, according to Canine Assistants, works at one of only 17 hospitals that employ facility pups in the nation.

A group of nurses sitting around a circular table with a comfort dog

After 21 months of combined training as a service then facility dog, which required a higher level of instruction, Hazel graduated at the top of her litter. The valedictorian, who was trained using a bond-based approach – social communication and learning between human and canine rather than being taught a list of tasks – reported for duty with handler and Methodist Children’s Child Life Specialist Caitlin Pearce.

“Hazel has been trained in several children’s hospitals to ensure she can manage things like loud noises, smells, hospital alarms and codes, and large crowds,” explained Pearce, who has worked for Methodist Children’s for four years.

Hazel’s main gig is to put young patients and their families at ease. Pearce added: “With our young patients, she’s there to help them cope with their procedures, encourage them to take their medicines, to help kids get out of bed to walk after surgeries, and to keep kids company when their parents are gone.”

Pearce said the children’s treatment team knew they had something special after Hazel’s first patient interaction with a little boy.  “He just lit up and began laughing as though he forgot he was in the hospital. That’s what it’s all about.”

Throughout her first day, Hazel made a huge impact on several other patients including an autistic child who would not stop screaming. When Hazel arrived, she got on his bed, put her head in his lap, and the child immediately calmed down. Staff said he transformed completely.

Comfort dog Hazel's hospital IDAnd just like that, Hazel became part of the team – complete with a lunch box, name badge and a will to heal.

Watch the newest member of Methodist Children’s Hospital make her rounds on local news KENS 5 (CBS) here and take a look at a few frequently asked questions below.   

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a facility dog and therapy dog?

A facility dog is similar to a therapy dog, but rather than being trained to work periodically with individuals, she’s trained to work with a multitude of people on a regular basis in a facility like Methodist Children’s Hospital.

Where did Hazel complete her training?

She completed her training at Canine Assistants in Atlanta, Georgia.

What are Hazel’s work hours?

Hazel works 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. She takes a nap in the morning and a nap in the afternoon, which allows Caitlin to get her administrative tasks done. She also lets Caitlin know when she needs a bathroom break.

Will Hazel work throughout the entire children’s hospital?

Hazel primarily works on the oncology unit and in the pediatric intensive care unit, but will go anywhere she is needed, including visits with adult patients at Methodist Hospital.

Will Hazel replace any existing pet therapy programs at Methodist Children’s?

No, as her services are different from that of a therapy dog.

How often will Hazel be groomed for work?

She is bathed and brushed once a week and receives a full groom and hair cut once a month.

What’s Hazel like when she’s not on the clock?

Hazel is an extremely playful dog. She loves to play fetch, but when her handler is not available to play her favorite game, Hazel will play fetch by herself, kicking her ball and then running to retrieve it! But once she puts that vest on- she knows it’s time to go to work! She has real purpose and her demeanor changes. She calms right down and walks with such grace.

Comfort dog Hazel being interviewed by a TV news reporter

Comfort dog Hazel sitting at table with nurses

Methodist Children’s Hospital, a campus of Methodist Hospital, is an affiliate of HCA Healthcare and Methodist Healthcare Ministries, South Texas’ largest non-public funding source of community health care. 

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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