Sprout Works Like a Dog to Comfort Kids

Spend some time with Sprout, the newest addition to the facility dog team at Children’s National Hospital, and prepare to marvel at what a dog can do in one day. It starts with stretches and cuddles at home in the morning with his owner and primary handler, Becca Wagner, a Child Life Specialist and Studio Media Specialist at Seacrest Studios. Throughout Sprout’s day, he provides comfort and specialized care to patients and staff.

Sprout joined Children’s National team recently thanks to a gift from the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation, the charitable organization powered by Dunkin’ and the generosity of its franchisees, partners, team members and guests.

He contributes a lot in the radiology department with one of his secondary handlers, Child Life Specialist Holly Bulgarella. “He has a knack for keeping kids calm,” she says. This often means a child can make it through the process of getting an MRI without needing anesthesia. “A lot of kids are hesitant when facing an MRI or a CT scan,” she says. “But Sprout makes everyone feel at ease.” He demonstrates how to put on the headphones kids must wear during a scan and how to stand quietly to have his picture taken. Patients often agree to try the procedure without anesthesia because Sprout showed them how.

Sprout takes breaks with his co-workers, facility dogs Company and Barney, enjoying belly rubs and time in the dogs’ outdoor fenced area. He works afternoon shifts with Child Life Specialist Katie Rohrback in outpatient clinics where he helps kids stay calm during blood draws.

Recently, Sprout helped collect blood samples for a research study about the impact of COVID-19 on kids. “One family had 3 children participating, including a child with special needs,” Katie says. “They were all nervous, but Sprout distracted and entertained them. It was beautiful to see this family have a positive experience contributing to research, in part thanks to Sprout.” Afterwards, he delighted the family by performing tricks.

Other things Sprout does on a typical day? He spends time with Becca in the studio and may host a story time show. He signs casts in the emergency department and helps children undergoing physical therapy sessions. He knows more than 50 commands for obedience skills, tricks and special requests such as “brace.” When he hears this word, he steadies himself to support a patient attempting to stand or walk. He might interact with as many as 30 children and their families in a day. He visits with staff. After work, Sprout and Becca enjoy a long walk together.

“We could not be more grateful to Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation for their generous support,” Becca says. “Sprout has a kind of magical superpower to soothe even the most scared child. Being able to provide this kind of comfort and care as part of our multidisciplinary approach elevates our impact on patients and families. He makes the hospital feel like a lighter, happier place.”


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