Children's Specialized Hospital Becomes First Pediatric Hospital in New Jersey to Have Full-Time Facility Dog on Staff

November 20, 2017

Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, became the only children’s hospital in New Jersey with a facility dog on staff. An official welcome party was hosted today for Burton, a 20-month-old golden retriever who will be a full-time employee of CSH. Staff members and patients gathered for cake in the CSH lobby to celebrate the newest four-legged employee. Burton will work with his owner/handler Katie Ahlers, Senior Recreational Therapist at CSH, in different departments within the hospital to provide animal assisted therapies to patients, their families and staff members alike.

Burton was born in Georgia where he was trained at Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people and dogs so they may enhance the lives of one another. The funding for Burton was provided by Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money for dogs from Canine Assistants, in hopes to connect children and adults with all forms of disabilities with service and therapy dogs. In addition to the funding for Burton, Mickey’s Kids has partnered with NorthStar VETS in Robbinsville, NJ to cover all costs for veterinary services for the entirety of Burton’s life. Great Clips has raised money for Burton’s grooming and Burton also received a special welcome package of food, treats, supplies and toys which were donated by, an online pet food and supply retailer.

“Having Burton on our team is a perfect fit with our commitment to patient and family centered, compassionate and innovative care,” said Warren E. Moore, FACHE, President & CEO of Children’s Specialized Hospital. “Through our on-going dialogue with patients and families, we understood the special role pet therapy could play in reducing the stress and anxieties of our young patients. We are thrilled to welcome Burton to the CSH family and are grateful to Mickey’s Kids for their generous support.”

Burton is specially trained to work in the health care environment having completed a high-level therapy dog training program specifically designed to prepare him to work with the children and families. Through his extensive training he learned the meaning of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. He also learned to answer either/or questions, reason by exclusion, synchronize with the demeanor of his human partner, replicate actions demonstrated by others, and effectively communicate using body language, expressions, and movements as well as interpret communications such as reading emotion and intent in human facial expressions, body language and tone.  He also learned to function appropriately and comfortably in a wide variety of public and private settings. Burton will bring all of these skills and more to his role at CSH.

“Empirical and anecdotal evidence indicates that dogs can have a profoundly positive impact on patients and their families as well as hospital personnel,” said Bonnie Altieri, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer. “Interactions with dogs have shown to have a regulatory effect on blood pressure, lower respiration rates, and reduce the amount of pain medication patients required to achieve comfort. Dogs, like Burton, have also been shown to increase physical and mental stimulation and motivation which helps to improve patient morale and outcomes.”

“Seeing the smiles on the faces of these children today confirms our hopes that Burton would bring joy and healing to the patients at Children’s Specialized Hospital,” said Tom Meli, Founder of Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation. “Our goal is to share this joy and to get as many service and therapy dogs into the tri-state area as we can.”

For more photos from the party, visit Children's Specialized Hospital on Facebook at,

About Children’s Specialized Hospital

Children’s Specialized Hospital is the nation’s leading provider of inpatient and outpatient care for children from birth to 21 years of age facing special health challenges — from chronic illnesses and complex physical disabilities like brain and spinal cord injuries, to developmental and behavioral issues like autism and mental health. At thirteen different New Jersey locations, our pediatric specialists partner with families to make our many innovative therapies and medical treatments more personalized and children can achieve more of their goals.  To help, or find more information: call 888-CHILDRENS; visit; Facebook:; Twitter:; YouTube:; LinkedIn:'s-specialized-hospital.

About Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation
Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation is a non-profit organization which trains and provides service dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities and other special needs. Mickey’s Kids exclusively raises money for Canine Assistants, the Georgia-based organization which raises service dogs for children in need. Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation’s goal is to get as many service/therapy dogs into the New York metropolitan area as possible. The service and therapy dogs sponsored by Mickey’s Kids are awarded based on need, type and severity of disability. Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation was founded by Hasbrouck Heights residents, Tom and Michelle Meli. For more information visit: