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Animal-Assisted Program


Through the Department of Child Life and Education, child life specialists use age-appropriate education and activities to minimize stress and anxiety so that patients and families can cope positively with their healthcare experience.


wanda dogWanda, Medical Dog Sponsored by Nucor Steel

At Children’s of Alabama, one of our most popular caregivers happens to be known for her warm and furry hugs.

In June 2023, Children’s of Alabama welcomed our first medical dog, Wanda. Combined with the expertise of her handlers and child life specialists, Wanda assists patients through goal-directed interventions. She comes alongside patients by helping them cope, heal and achieve treatment goals while at the hospital.

Medical Dog FAQs

Wanda began her training at only a few days old at Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and training hospital service dogs. Her specialized training and sweet demeanor allow her to be fully prepared for her daily work in the hospital. 

Each service dog litter at Canine Assistant is named according to a theme. Wanda’s litter was Marvel-themed.

Wanda received highly specialized training through a bond-based teaching method. This method focuses on a dog’s ability to understand their environment and their handler’s needs, which differs from traditional command-based methodology. Wanda can perform valuable tasks like helping patients meet medical goals.

Wanda and her handlers spend their days seeing patients throughout the hospital. At this time, Wanda is the only medical dog at Children’s of Alabama and is consulted through the Department of Child Life and Education. While we do our best to accommodate all requests, we are not able to guarantee a visit. 

Wanda aims to provide goal-oriented interventions with the direction of a certified child life specialist. As a team, Wanda and her handler help calm patients during procedures, encourage mobility following surgeries, comfort patients who have experienced trauma and even demonstrate how to take certain medications. 


hand and pawHand-in-Paw

Hand-in-Paw (HIP) is a long-time and beloved partner at Children’s of Alabama. Each HIP team helps make the hospital feel more comfortable for patients who are away from their pets or who could benefit from a friendly bedside visit. HIP teams visit Children’s of Alabama frequently and can greatly impact a child’s stay. These visits provide opportunities to enhance the quality of life while creating positive emotions. While we cannot guarantee a visit, our volunteer teams do their best to see as many patients as possible. To request a Hand-in-Paw visit, please get in touch with Volunteer Services for more information.



H.E.R.O. ProgramThe Alabama H.E.R.O Program

The HERO program is a statewide Certified Facility Dog Program to assist in helping victims throughout the criminal process. The Office of Prosecution Services executes the program and is funded by a grant reward through ADECA. The Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services Center (CHIPS Center) utilizes this program to assist in the healing journey for suspected victims of child abuse. The H.E.R.O dogs help children during forensic medical exams and throughout the therapeutic process. Learn more: https://opsheroinfo.org/



pups programP.U.P.S.

The P.U.P.S. Program (Pups Unleashing Patient Smiles) is an animal-assisted activity program at Children's South. Shelby and Foster are poodles who are trained to work in therapeutic settings. They assist patients in bringing a sense of comfort, peace and joy to the healthcare environment. Not only do these poodles bring comfort to our patients and families, but also to our staff. While we cannot guarantee a visit, Shelby and Foster will do their best to see as many patients as possible.