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Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation Gives Service Dogs Furever Homes in Children’s Hospitals

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By Olivia Strauss

There’s nothing better than a furry friend, especially one trained to help with everyday tasks that would otherwise be impossible due to illness or disability. But for the 61 million Americans struggling with disability, barriers like cost, accessibility, and the two-year dog training program are why only 500,000 trained service animals are available in the U.S.

To help, the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation founded the Dogs for Joy Program to increase the number of full-time service dogs in children’s hospitals nationwide.

“These special dogs not only bring joy to children battling illness but serve an important role with within a child’s treatment team. By joining the hospital team, these dogs provide comfort to pediatric patients and their family members,” says April McGonnigal, Director of the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation. “The Foundation is always seeking ways to help kids feel like kids, even on their most difficult days. Nothing brings joy more than four paws, a wet nose, and a wagging tail.”

Since 2018, Dogs for Joy has granted 32 in-residence dogs to 17 children’s hospitals across the country. The service dogs play several roles, including calming a child down, providing incentive for a child to get out of bed, teaching a child to take a pill, and more.

UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, MA received an in-residence dog named Valentina in 2020, funded through the Dogs for Joy program. For Member at Large and Certified Child Life Specialist Meghan Landry, Valentina has been a helpful addition to the staff.

At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s) in Atlanta, GA, Uno joined the team in 2019. For Audrey, a patient admitted to Children’s in 2021, Uno made all the difference. “I met Uno in May 2021 after my cardiac arrest. I was stressed, and Uno found me in the hospital and helped me feel better – literally calmed my heart. Because of that, my parents learned about service dogs, and now I have one of my own.”

At Oklahoma Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, OK, Litta has been an in-residence service dog for children in need since 2020.

As in-residence service dogs, our Dogs for Joy pups receive regular time off with their handlers on the evenings and weekends. Meghan makes sure Valentina spends plenty of time outdoors where she chases birds and spends time with other “furiends.” To see the adventures of our service dogs, follow the Foundation on Facebook and Instagram.

To learn more about the Dogs for Joy program and how healthcare providers can apply to receive granting for an in-residence dog, visit