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Brea the Beacon

Brea the Beacon

Meet Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s Most Popular Employee 

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Child Life Specialist Leah Frohnerath’s favorite coworker, Brea, is hard working, reliable and highly motivated. This well-loved employee is not interested in a monetary paycheck, but happily rewarded with belly rubs and patients’ laughter. 

Brea joined Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in February 2021 as a member of the Child Life team. As their first full-time facility dog, Brea’s job is to work with Frohnerath to provide comfort and support to children.  

Together, the team works 40 hours per week to motivate patients to meet their goals and brighten their mood during difficult times. They hope to lessen the stress of a hospital stay. 

“For a child with a chronic illness or acute injury, the change in their abilities can be drastic. I’ve seen Brea become a beacon to help challenge them and aid in their recovery,” Frohnerath said. “When obstacles seem insurmountable, their motivation to connect with Brea is strong enough to propel them forward. Parents and doctors are amazed at the impact.”  

Specialized Training  

The labrador retriever’s two years of specialized training started at Canine Companions when she was a few weeks old. The nonprofit teaches dogs to assist people with disabilities and in hospital settings.  

While volunteer pet therapy dogs provide emotional support, facility dogs are expertly trained to help children cope with the most challenging medical situations and diagnoses. Facility dogs learn 40 commands that allow them to interact with and calm patients and staff. They pull wagons, push drawers and retrieve items. 

Dogs receive special certification through a national standardized practical test and return for follow-up assessments. The Child Life team member handler must complete a two-week, full-time training course with the dog to ensure the team is a good fit. 

Brea can be present during a child’s exam, invasive scan or difficult procedure because she has been taught to meet the psychosocial needs of patients and aid in positive coping.   

Circle of Impact  

While she is an energetic and playful dog at home, Frohnerath described Brea’s hospital work ethic as the “epitome of professionalism.” She is calm, emphatic, affectionate and completely invested in whomever she is with. 

“Brea has these deep soulful eyes that captivate everyone she meets,” she said. 

The four-year-old canine loves to be around people and excels in acute care environments.  

Conor Ridley, 17, recently received a bone marrow transplant with Brea by his side. It was her first experience with the procedure. Ridley said her presence that day, and each visit since, have made a big difference in his mental health.  

“I love having her around. Brea provides the best distraction and comfort when you need it most,” he said. “I miss my dogs when I’m here. Her visits make the hospital feel more like home.”  

Ridley has also noticed the effect Brea has on other children.  

“She has the ability to put a smile on someone’s face when nothing else can. She brings so much happiness to kids that are dealing with a lot. It’s hard to put into words what her visits mean to me and to all of the patients here.” 

An unexpected bonus of the JHACH facility dog program is the positive effect on the hospital staff.  

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Frohnerath said hospital employees tell her that Brea’s ability to change the mood and create a more positive environment is palpable. It affects the way they interact with each other and with patients and families. 

A Growing Need  

Brea splits her time between radiology, the infusion center, the inpatient hematology/oncology unit, the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).   

To ensure each patient receives purposeful, quality interaction designed to assist with medical goals, Brea can only support six to eight children per day.  

JHACH hopes to expand the program. An additional facility dog would be able to serve in the emergency center, general medical floor, neurosurgical step-down unit and spend additional time in radiology. 

The Facility Dog Program at the 259-bed hospital is 100% donor-funded. It would not be possible without the generosity of the Greater Tampa Bay community.  

Visit to make a donation. Follow Brea on Instagram @allkidscanines to see her work in action.  

By Jennifer Kennedy.

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