Dog Brings Smiles to Kids at Kapiolani Medical Center

Kassian Neal
Kassian Neal

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Going to the hospital can be a scary and painful experience for keiki, but some young patients at Kapiolani Medical Center are now greeted with a wagging tail and a fury hug. KHNL News 8 found out about this through a Talk Story Email.

Don't be surprised if you see a dog trotting through the halls of Kapiolani Medical Center. Well, at least this 16 month old Golden Retriever named Tucker. He is a specially trained Assisted Therapy Dog. Ellie Taft the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Supervisor is Tucker's handler.

His days are filled full of hugs, plenty of petting, and even a few show off tricks. Tucker's work, training, and handling is paid for through donations. When we followed him, the four legged therapist gave a little canine care to nine year old Kassian Neal. Kassian had to have his leg amputated back in January due to Osteogenic Sarcoma, a type of cancer that often affects the leg and knee. This time Kassian is in the hospital for his cancer treatment.

Kassian says, "He (Tucker) makes me feel good, and he is super energetic, he is playful and sometimes he just lays down in my bed and does nothing."

He says when he sees Tucker he gets a little tickle inside his heart. "I don't really get that many visitors and he likes to lick me on the face a lot", Kassian adds.

Tucker goes to Kapiolani Medical Center to visit the kids about five days a week, he lives with Ellie his handler. But he's not going anywhere any time soon, he's on loan to the hospital for about ten years. He works a total of about 4 hours a day with a "paws" or two in between visits.

Kapiolani CEO Martha Smith says, "And then he will nap he comes down to administration to have quiet time and nap in my office and it's wonderful to have him here". He also visits nurses and doctors, bringing a little happiness and ease in what can often be a stressful work place.

On Kassian's last day at the hospital, Ellie gives him a little stuffed animal that looks just like Tucker. So, Kassian can bring a little good memory home with him.

As Ellie and Tucker say goodbye, Kassian waves with a huge smile. Ellie says, "When you come back we'll be waiting for you and we can visit again".

Donors have helped pay for Tucker and the Animal Assisted Therapy Program at Kapiolani Medical Center. However, the foundation that funds it says it needs more donations to keep Tucker's program going. If you'd like to help you can log on to the Kapiolani Foundation website at:

Tucker comes to Kapiolani from Hawaii Canines for Independence, a non-profit organization based on Maui that proivides specially trained therapy dogs and service dogs for the disabled.