Casper fills roles the staff can't, such as showing kids that their breathing machine is not scary, or distracting children who are receiving an IV or are frightened by the IV machine.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Lisa Kinsel
Photo: Photo courtesy of Lisa Kinsel

Children’s first therapy dog retires

Casper, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s first therapy dog, has recently retired after 9 years of service. 

He began his career at Children’s in September 2009 as the hospital’s first four-legged employee. Alongside his handler, Lisa Kinsel, volunteer services manager at Children’s Scottish Rite, Casper has helped improve the lives of countless patients and employees.

Casper gets to enjoy his retirement days with his very best friend, because after 28 years at Children’s, Lisa is retiring, too. Kinsel said she’s happy to start the next chapter of her life with Casper by her side. “I’m his touchstone,” she said in an e-mail. “And he’s mine.” 

Casper and Lisa are leaving behind a legacy built to last: the Children’s Canines For Kids program. Children’s furry fleet now has 16 working dogs in the program. Those four-legged friends help make Children’s patients, families and employees feel the love and support they need during a particularly stressful appointment, procedure or work day. 

In this 2015 file photo, Emma Anderson, who is 5 at the time, is comforted by Uno, a therapy dog at the Sibley Heart Center at Egleston. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

The program began in 2009 with Casper and his handler, Lisa Kinsel. Children’s Canines For Kids program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, has been replicated in more than 20 other pediatric or medical institutions across the United States. Children’s has helped train other institutions to help them implement similar programs. 

MORE: Uno, the therapy dog. A heartwarming photo essay about this dog known as “The Magic Maker.”

In this file photo, Dr. Jana Stockwell gets some encouragement from Tidings during their rounds in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

The highly trained facility dogs are from Canine Assistants, a national organization with an office in Milton. Canine Assistants raise and train service dogs from physical disabilities and other special needs. Potential service dogs undergo 18 months of training, learning to remain calm in various situations while focusing their attention on their handlers. 

The Canines for Kids program is entirely donor funded. It currently costs $20,500 to sponsor a dog and cover their ongoing care and supplies.

Creed’s mother,  Stephanie Campbell, shared her son’s  special bond with Casper, in a CHOA blog post. Photo contributed by CHOA. 

 For a touching story about a special relationship between Casper and a former patient and best friend named Creed, visit a CHOA’s blog post (and you may want to grab some tissues first).

Meet Bronco. Like any other 11-year-old boy, Bronco loves to swim, dance and hang out with his friends. But unlike most kids, Bronco was born with four congenital heart defects. Thanks to Camp Twin Lakes, this little guy attended his first summer camp. (Directed by Ryon Horne / Produced by Helena Olviero, Director of Photography Curtis Compton)

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