Children's Hospital Colorado

Medical Dog Program: Meet Our Hospital Dogs

A child life specialists helps a kid listen to a stuffed animal's heartbeat with a toy stethoscope.

At Children's Hospital Colorado, we don't just focus on a child's illness – we focus on the whole child. And sometimes, love from a furry, four-legged friend is just what kids need to put them on the path to healing.

In early 2019, Children's Colorado welcomed our very first full-time hospital dog, Ralph Lauren. We call him Ralph, Medical Dog – or Ralph, MD, for short. Several months later, Halo, MD, and Galaxy, MD, joined our pack.

With the steadfast support of their handlers and child life specialists, Ralph, Halo and Galaxy help kids in our hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus heal from illness or injury and cope with the stress or anxiety that may come with a stay in the hospital.

As highly trained service dogs, our medical dogs are here to help motivate our patients to meet their goals, make the clinical environment feel more like home and give kids a reason to play and smile, even when they're sick.

Medical benefits of service and therapy dogs for kids

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that animal-assisted therapy can help patients cope with and heal from health problems. Research shows that interacting with a gentle, friendly pet has benefits including stabilizing blood pressure, diminishing pain, reducing anxiety and even encouraging communication. Expertly paired with clinically-trained team members, our hospital dogs provide a gentle, calm presence in what can sometimes be a stressful experience for patients and their families.

Learn even more about our pups and our growing Medical Dog Program through the frequently asked questions below.

FAQs about the Medical Dog Program

What training do medical dogs receive?

Our medical dogs started training at just a few weeks old and spent nearly two years learning at a nonprofit service dog school, Canine Assistants, before they began serving patients. Their specialized training and calm disposition make them perfect companions for kids and teens who may be facing a tough time. While Ralph, Halo and Galaxy can perform many impressive tasks and tricks, their greatest gifts are patience and unconditional love.

How long have they been working?

Ralph has been serving patients in children’s hospitals for more than five years. He came to Children’s Colorado in January 2019.

Halo and Galaxy joined the Children’s Colorado family in August 2019. They came to us straight from service dog school.

What kind of dogs are they, and what are their sexes?

All three of our MDs are golden retrievers. Ralph and Galaxy are males, and Halo is female.

Where did they get their names?

Canine Assistants names each litter of service dog puppies according to a theme. Ralph Lauren was part of a fashion designer-themed litter, and Halo and Galaxy came from an outer space-themed litter.

Will more hospital dogs be added to the Program?

Our Medical Dog Program is growing! Please check back soon to meet our other canine caregivers.

How can I meet a medical dog?

Ralph, Halo and Galaxy are busy pups who spend most of their days helping the patients who need them most. That's why a medical provider must make a request for a medical dog to visit, and then work with our Child Life Department to schedule the visit according to level of need and availability. While we do our best to accommodate all medical requests, we cannot guarantee a visit.

Fortunately for all patients, our medical dogs also visit Seacrest Studios and the T(w)een Zone (for kids age 10 or older) a couple of times each week. Ask your nurse or child life specialist to learn about their next appearance or how to watch them on TV.

And finally, if you or your child can't meet Ralph, Halo or Galaxy in person, you can always follow the happenings of the Medical Dog Program by following Children's Colorado on Instagram.

How is the Medical Dog Program different from the Prescription Pets Program?

While both programs make a world of difference for kids and teens in our hospital, their aims are slightly different. The dogs in the Medical Dog Program are specially trained service dogs who work with clinical staff. These hospital dogs can help calm patients during certain procedures, encourage kids to get up and move around even when they're feeling sick, comfort kids who have experienced trauma and even ease patients' fears by demonstrating how to take medications. In order to request assistance from a medical dog, the child's provider must have a clinical goal in mind and then request a visit through the medical chart. The child life team then evaluates the request and works to accommodate it according to medical needs and availability.

Prescription pets are Children's Colorado's beloved four-legged volunteers who work with their humans to bring cheer and joy to patients in our hospital by visiting patients in common areas and patient rooms. Many of these friendly pups and their owners visit our hospital at Anschutz Medical Campus several times per week. (They also visit our hospital in Colorado Springs.) Just like our medical dogs, prescription pets make the hospital feel more comfortable for patients who are away from their own pets or who could benefit from a friendly presence. Unlike medical dogs, prescription pets cannot be present during a patient’s exam or procedure.

Both medical dogs and prescription pets keep very busy visiting patients almost every day. While we cannot guarantee a dog visit during a child's stay, we will do our very best to accommodate your request through the Prescription Pets Program. To request a visit from a prescription pet, please call the Association of Volunteers at 720-777-6887.

How can I help?

The Medical Dog Program at Children's Colorado is supported by generous donations from our community. If you'd like to help the Medical Dog Program grow, please make a donation to Ralph's fundraising page through the Children's Hospital Colorado Foundation. Your donation supports ongoing care for Ralph, Halo and Galaxy while helping us to add more medical dogs to our team.

Sit. Stay. Heal.

At Children's Colorado, we provide several opportunities for kids and teens to connect with animals while they're away from home.

Meet our prescription pets

Learn about our pet pen pal program for kids with cancer

The Medical Dog Program is just one of the ways that Children's Colorado brings joy to kids and teens every day. Learn all the other ways we provide kid- and family-focused care.