Skip to main content
Find a DoctorGet Care Now
Skip to main content







nana and abilgail

Nana (left), a YNHCH dog-in-residence, recently welcomed canine colleague Abigail. The pups and their Child Life department handlers, Caitlin Leary and Jennifer Granoth, work full time at the hospital, comforting and motivating pediatric patients. The dogs-in-residence are supported by the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation’s Dogs for Joy program.

Introducing Abigail: YNHCH’s newest full-time, four-legged, feel-better expert  

Jennifer Granoth had a patient who was extremely withdrawn and didn’t want to participate in a group activity at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service. 

Then therapy dog Abigail climbed into the patient’s lap.

“The patient smiled and began talking to Abby,” said Granoth, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and Abigail’s handler. “That gave me the opportunity to connect with the patient. It’s amazing to see just how quickly Abby can engage a child.”

Abigail, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, recently became YNHCH’s second therapy dog-in-residence. She joins Nana, a Golden Retriever, who started in 2021. In partnership with their handlers from YNHCH’s Child Life department, the dogs comfort, motivate and cheer patients. The pups also provide distraction and keep patients calm during medical procedures and help model skills such as how to take a pill. 

Abigail is specially trained to work with patients who have behavioral health concerns, using specific techniques to support patients’ mental well-being. Sitting in patients’ laps, providing light or deep pressure, is one way Abigail can make patients feel more secure, Granoth said. 

Having a therapy dog provides staff members additional options for helping patients who are having behavioral crises, said Sarah Kowalski, RN, assistant patient services manager, Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service. 

“The relief that you see in these patients is incredible,” she said. 

Abigail and Nana support more than patients and their families.

“In these extremely stressful times for our staff, the dogs’ presence is very meaningful and appreciated,” said Cynthia Sparer, Yale New Haven Health executive vice president and president of Ambulatory Care, and executive director, YNHCH. 

“Staff members will be having a difficult day, and they’ll say, ‘I just need some Abby time,’” Kowalski said.

Nana and Abigail came to the Children’s Hospital as part of the Dogs for Joy program, funded by the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation. A foundation grant covered the launch of YNHCH’s program. 

At a December event officially welcoming Abigail, Sparer thanked the foundation and Child Life department staff for making the program such a success. 

She also thanked The Exceptional Sidekick organization of Newtown, CT, which provided Abigail’s specialized training. The nonprofit organization offers psychiatric service dogs to teens and young adults. 

Representatives from The Exceptional Sidekick also attended the December event, along with members of the family Abigail lived with as part of her socialization and training. Exceptional Sidekick founder Abby Hill is a professional dog trainer, but won’t take credit for the impact the organization’s canine “graduates” have on people’s lives.

“It’s the dogs,” Hill said. “They’re magical.”

Learn more about the dogs-in-residence program.