PetSmart extends a helping paw for young patients in need of canine comfort

January 21, 2015

Children’s Health System of Texas’ new hires walk on four legs and may have quickly become the most popular employees in the hospital.

They are Blair and Van, specially bred and trained pet therapy dogs, whose presence on a daily, full-time basis has been made possible by a $425,000 donation from PetSmart. The gift from the Phoenix-based retail company was announced today at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, with Blair and Van in attendance and wearing their Children’s photo ID badges.

Support from PetSmart to launch the Paws for Hope pet therapy program has allowed the hospital to expand its three-hour a week volunteer effort to a fully functional program with not only Blair and Van, but also with 18 new pet therapy volunteer teams.

Blair and Van, each paired with a Child Life specialist, make up canine comfort teams that have an instant appeal to young patients. Blair, who is a golden retriever/Labrador retriever/standard poodle mix, recently visited Kaitlyn Johnson, putting a much less stressful tone on a day full of procedures as the 4-year-old deals with a relapse of leukemia.

“Blair is one of the ‘people’ on her list that we have to see every time we’re here,” said Kaitlyn’s father, James Johnson, as Kaitlyn played with Blair on her hospital bed.

Blair and Van came to Children’s from Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based nonprofit that breeds and trains dogs to help people with physical disabilities, seizure conditions or other special needs. Hospital work is a new phase in the canines’ gentle purposefulness, and they are proving hugely effective at calming children before procedures and giving them a friendly, furry, entertaining break during long hospital stays.

“They love her. They really, really love her, and she loves them too,” said Blair’s handler Caitlin Creasey, a Child Life specialist who takes Blair home with her every night and weekend. The Child Life department at Children’s provides patient-family centered care through focusing on the psychological, emotional and social needs of the children.

Abby Godwin frequently brings her 4-year-old daughter Isabella to Children’s for chemotherapy, and she said Isabella always looks forward to seeing her friend Blair.

“Before we go to the hospital she’ll say, ‘I wonder if we get to see Blair.’ She is always curious as to what type of bow Blair will be wearing,” Mrs. Godwin said. “It has been such a blessing. It just seems to give Isabella calm and peace when Blair is there.”

James Johnson said when his daughter is reluctant to leave her hospital room and they need to get her moving, they entice her by suggesting they go look for Blair. It always works.

The PetSmart Paws for Hope gift represents a five-year commitment from the company, which has partnerships with five other hospitals across the country. With additional philanthropic support, Children’s Medical Center Foundation’s goal is to build a $5 million endowment to sustain the program in perpetuity.

“At PetSmart, we know the power of pets and their ability to help kids heal,” said David Lenhardt, president and CEO of PetSmart. “Partnerships, like this one with Children’s Health, make a world of difference to those in the hospital. I look forward to watching this program grow as it continues to positively impact even more lives.”

The PetSmart gift builds upon a hugely successful volunteer pet therapy program that has been bringing friendly dogs to the hospital on a part-time basis for 15 years through volunteer organizations, such as Paws Across Texas.

“Our pet therapy teams play a very special role here at Children’s Health. The impact the volunteers and therapy dogs make when they walk into a patient’s room is truly remarkable,” said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, president of Children’s Medical Center Foundation. “Interacting with a therapy animal bestows positive physical and mental benefits to patients. We are very grateful to PetSmart for its support, and for its recognition of this vital program that comforts so many of our young patients, families, guests and staff.”

If you would like to gift in support of the "Paws for Hope" program, you can make your gift online here.

Meet Our New Staff Members


Blair is a golden retriever/ Labrador retriever/ standard poodle mix, which accounts for her friendly personality. When her handler gives her the OK, she likes jumping up on the bed with patients at Children’s Medical Center, and she greets adults, unprompted, by offering her paw for a hand shake.

Blair was born on Aug. 20, 2013, at Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based nonprofit that breeds and trains dogs for hospital work and for helping people with special needs.

She loves to chase her tail, go for walks, and snuggle with stuffed animals. Her favorite treat is peanut butter.




Van is a pure-bred golden retriever whose mission in life is to befriend the patients at Children’s Medical Center. Frequently seen greeting kids at Children’s, Van often wears a bow tie around his neck to differentiate himself from his look-a-like compadre, Blair.

Van was born on June 19, 2013, at Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based nonprofit that breeds and trains dogs for people with special needs.

Van is part of the vanguard of a new generation of dogs sent out to permanent postings in children’s hospitals across the country to make friends, reduce stress and occasionally get a treat for doing so. His favorite toy is a stuffed giraffe.


Learn More About "Paws For Hope"


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