Party Celebrates Paws-itive Effect of Facility Dogs for 20 Years
Sep 7, 2023
Gary Zavoral
A patient and the dog

In a scene from the video, a young patient attends the recent “dog party” and finds some alone time with one of Sutter’s facility dogs. Watch the video below to see all the fun from the party, find out why the facility dog program is so important to patients and staff, and hear from former pediatric patients on how the facility dogs helped them cope while in Sutter Children’s Center.

A dozen canines who work at Northern California hospitals and other medical care facilities gathered in August to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the nation’s first full-time facility dog program at a Sacramento children’s hospital. And, as the video below shows, the dog party with lots of fun activities for all was a howling success.


The dog party featured large posters of each of the 15 facility dogs, all trained by Canine Companions, who help to comfort and assist both pediatric and adult patients throughout the Sutter Health system in Northern California.

Also check out these stories on the dog party and patients’ experiences in The Sacramento Bee and KCRA-NBC-3.

The groundbreaking facility dog program began with Hazel, a blonde Labrador retriever, who became the Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento Children’s Center’s first furry full-time employee in August 2003. The value and health benefits to the pediatric patients were immense, and the Sutter Children’s Center now has six full-time “dog-tors” on staff, each with their own handler from the Child Life team of specialists.

Facility dogs at the Sutter dog party

Facility dogs at Sutter care facilities line up for a photo op during the Dog Party.

From there, the Sutter Children’s Center’s Child Life program assisted other Sutter Health hospitals and care facilities start their own programs. Among them are Canine Companions-trained facility dogs assisting adults in their cancer journey and their rehabilitation from strokes and heart issues, as well as ones helping children with neurological disorders, such as autism and epilepsy. The15 facility dogs assist patients on the campuses of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Sutter Roseville Medical Center and Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento.

Child Life team with their dogs and the dog poster

The Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento Children’s Center’s Child Life team poses with the posters of all the facility dogs in the Sutter Health system.

“The Facility Dog Program has touched the lives of countless individuals, bringing joy and solace in times of need,” said Sutter Children’s Center Child Life Specialist Jenn Johnson, who currently is the handler for Glimmer. “From hospitals to rehabilitation centers, therapy sessions to community outreach events, our highly trained facility dogs have left a lasting paw print on the hearts of everyone they encounter. This anniversary celebration is an opportunity to honor their extraordinary service and the impact they have made in our community.”

Recent Articles