Hey, Jude!

First facility dog joins Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Family Support Services team

Specially trained service dog helps bring comfort and care to hospitalized patients


Patients at Wolfson Children’s Hospital are benefiting from a new member of the Family Support Services care team, but this team member has four legs and a tail.

Jude, the hospital’s first facility dog and founding member of “Wolfie’s Woofpack,” works with child life specialist Kara Williams to provide therapeutic interventions for pediatric patients and bring a little joy to their hospital stay.

Williams’ role is to help kids understand what is happening in the hospital and to ease their fears through education, support and play. As a specially trained facility dog, Jude complements Williams’ efforts by reducing patient anxiety and motivating patients to achieve clinical goals.

Jude is not a member of the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Auxiliary’s Pet Therapy Program, which was established in 1995. That program provides hospital patients with visits from trained volunteers and their own dogs to help make the patient’s hospital stay less stressful and more like home.

“The volunteer-run Pet Therapy Program is a wonderful comfort to our patients, providing them with more of a normalizing visit filled with love and affection,” Williams said. “These visits take place on a less frequent basis. Jude, on the other hand, works in the hospital with patients Monday through Friday and has been trained specifically to assist in service dog tasks such as providing a deep pressure comfort hold to alleviate anxiety or serving as an alternate focus during painful procedures.”

Facility dogs expertly trained as service dogs
Jude came to Wolfson Children’s Hospital from the nonprofit organization Canine Companions. As part of his two-year training, Jude underwent rigorous medical and temperamental screenings and passed several skills exams. Jude was matched with Williams during a two-week “team training” session at the southeastern regional training facility in Orlando. Williams worked with several dogs during the matching process but knew Jude was the one very quickly.

“When you’re going through the matching process, the staff tells you that you won’t pick the dog, the dog will pick you,” said Williams. “I worked with roughly six dogs throughout the first three days, but it was quickly clear that Jude was the one, based on the connection we had when working through ‘cues’ together.”

While dogs from Canine Companions are expertly trained to work with a professional handler such as a child life specialist in a health care setting or to help an individual with a physical disability perform basic tasks at home, they are not specifically designated to work in any particular location. As a result, Jude had never been in a hospital until after graduation when he started at Wolfson Children’s this past August.

Jude knows more than 40 commands, which help him assist patients in a variety of ways. Whether he is rolling a ball back and forth with a patient to improve motor function, motivating a patient to walk around the unit or just helping patients ground themselves by focusing on the feel of his fur, Jude brings positivity and hope to the hallways wherever he goes. He can accompany patients to certain bedside procedures, such as IV placements, and Jude is even trained to take “medicine” from a syringe in his mouth during a medical play session to help make syringes less scary for patients.

“Honestly, he does all the work, and I just get to watch him interact with patients and give them the love and support they need during procedures,” said Williams. “It has been amazing to see the difference that he makes in patients’ lives. They truly light up when he walks into the room.”

After Jude works with patients, Williams can provide a variety of mementos to commemorate their time together. Patients receive a coloring page of Jude, designed by Art with a Heart in Healthcare, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to arts and healing that includes artists working with Wolfson Children’s Hospital patients. With Williams’ help, Jude also “writes” thank you notes to patients he has assisted, sending a message of love and gratitude directly from their newest furry friend.

When he finishes his daily shift, Jude heads home with Williams, with whom he lives full-time. Williams is responsible for all of Jude’s personal care, including daily grooming and exercise, veterinarian visits and regular check-ins with the Canine Companions team. Being his handler is a lot of work, but she loves every second of it.

“Becoming a facility dog handler and building the Wolfie’s Woofpack Program has been a dream of mine for a while,” said Williams, who first encountered facility dogs during her practicum, which provides future child life specialists with hands-on experience through observation and supervised participation. “These dogs play such a vital role in the healing process and make such a significant impact on patients. Facility dogs can turn a sometimes-scary place into a safe place.”

To keep up with all of Jude’s adventures in the hospital follow him on Instagram @heyjudevii.

To support Jude and the future of Wolfie’s Woofpack facility dog program, you can donate at go.baptistjax.com/WolfiesWoofpack. Your gift supports Jude’s veterinarian visits, required medications, food, grooming, and other materials needed for working with hospitalized children and teens. Donations will also allow the Wolfie’s Woofpack program to grow, bringing more facility dogs and handlers to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in the future.