Penn State Health’s caregivers have a new furry support system among their ranks as Skye, a golden retriever, joins Penn State Health Children’s Hospital’s facility dog program. Skye will work with the staff-assigned chaplains to address employee distress and promote resilience at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital.
Skye works with her primary handler, Kelly Fuddy, the staff-assigned chaplain at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and secondary handler, Laura Ramsey, the staff-assigned chaplain in the Children’s Hospital. Skye will work alongside Fuddy and Ramsey providing comfort and support to caregivers, including managing crises and helping staff who are dealing with stress and the after-effects of crises, while also helping to prevent potential problems like burnout and fatigue. Skye will join Fuddy and Ramsey at staff meetings and debriefs and visit clinical units to check in on caregivers.
“Skye offers a comforting, non-judgmental presence to staff amidst the demands of their day. She elicits smiles wherever she goes just by being herself,” Fuddy said. “Caregivers need and deserve the kind of unconditional love she so expertly gives. Her visits encourage them to take a moment to pause and reset.”
Skye was raised by Canine Assistants in Georgia. Fuddy and Ramsey traveled to Georgia to meet Skye and learn how to integrate her into their daily tasks while maintaining a safe environment of care.
The Children’s Hospital became the first children’s hospital in Pennsylvania to establish a facility dog program in 2016 when its first employee, a golden retriever named Kaia, started on the job. Since its inception, Pilot, a black golden retriever and Captain, a golden retriever, have also joined the team. Kaia, Pilot, Captain are Skye are full-time employees of the Children’s Hospital who spend 40 hours a week on the job with their primary handlers, with time allowed for downtime, naps and walks.
The facility dog program is separate from the Pet Therapy Program, which continues to have an important presence in both the Children’s Hospital and adult hospital. The two programs have different kinds of training and help patients in different ways. Facility dogs get extensive training to work in a health care environment and provide emotional support, as well as learn specific tasks to help children cope with major and minor hospital procedures. Pet therapy dogs offer companionship as well as a calming and therapeutic influence for patients.
Skye is joining Kaia, Pilot and Captain thanks to a generous donation from JP and Teresa Bilbrey, who are providing funding for the purchase of Skye and an endowment to cover comprehensive support, including the cost of caring for Skye and her eventual retirement.
“When we learned that staff wellness is the focus of the newest facility dog, we were so moved to support it because we’ve been blessed to share meaningful and loving relationships with our own animals, and we know the importance of taking care of your team,” said JP Bilbrey. “We are pleased to be able to help take care of the team that takes such great care of our community.”
The facility dog program is sustained by ongoing funding from many generous donors including the inaugural anonymous benefactor who helped purchase the first facility dog. The Kelso Facility Dog Endowment, in honor of their dog, a Belgian Malinois named Kelso, provides support across the program.