Penn State Health increases four-legged staff for emotional support

Cris Collingwood//May 4, 2023

Sallie Bohlen, a patient assistant, meets Skye, the newest facility dog at Penn State Health – PHOTO/Penn State Health

Penn State Health increases four-legged staff for emotional support

Cris Collingwood//May 4, 2023

Staff at Penn State Health have a new team member to help them destress. 

Skye, a golden retriever, will wander the halls of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital to help employees relax. 

The pup joins Penn State Children’s Hospital’s facility dog program and will work 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, Penn State Health said. 

“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, Penn State Health said. 

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 a presence in both the Children’s Hospital and adult hospital. The two programs have different kinds of training and help patients in different ways, Penn State Health said.  

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, the health system said. 

Skye is joining Kaia, Pilot and Captain through a 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.