Fall 2023

Pawsitive presence

Meet the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain’s newest star employee: Jersey, the 3-year-old black lab–golden retriever


One of the newest employees at the University of Minnesota Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) fits the facility’s typical hiring profile perfectly. She’s brilliant and compassionate, with a sterling pedigree and a laundry list of unique skills.

And she just so happens to be a 3-year-old black lab–golden retriever mix.

Jersey, the MIDB’s facility dog, may wear a bandana and a cape at work rather than a lab coat, but she’s still a crucial member of the Child Family Life Services team, which also includes her handlers, certified child life specialists Cala Hefferan and Ann Kjolhaug. MIDB’s facility dog initiative was made possible by a grant from NetSPI and expands upon the NutriSource Bark Buddies Facility Dog Program at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Think of facility dogs as assistance dogs whose “college major” has further developed their natural aptitude for working with multiple patients. The extensive training that Jersey received at her alma mater, Can Do Canines, has prepared her to assist children and families throughout the course of their visits to the MIDB.

Jersey can hop up onto a scale, sit calmly while a blood pressure cuff is inflated around her leg, and model other behaviors in a process called “medical play” that allows children to become more comfortable with clinical and research practices. She can also meet a nervous patient in the lobby and let them walk her to their destination, greatly easing their stress.

Hefferan says that kids love it when Jersey opens the clinic’s automatic door by pushing the button with her nose. Often, simply petting Jersey can have a profoundly positive effect on a patient’s emotions—and on their parents or guardians, too.

“Jersey helps us so much with building rapport and creating a playful environment,” Hefferan says. “A lot of families come with some stress and anxiety, and to see their child giggle and play and have a good time, it can ease some of that worry.”