A golden retriever wearing a blue service dog vest leans against the side of a patient’s bed.

Introducing UC Davis Health’s newest four-legged team member, Landon

Golden Retriever is a CARE Project dog who visits the bedside of adult patients


When I first met Landon in UC Davis Health’s North Addition Office Building lobby recently, he was already locked in and laser focused.

Two health care workers in green scrubs kneel down to pet a golden retriever wearing a blue service dog vest
The newest canine CARE team dog, Landon, is popular not only with patients, but with employees, who enjoy seeing him on the job.

The two-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever had just arrived for his first day on the job with The CARE (Creativity, Amenities, Relaxation, Exploration) Project, a program dedicated to a holistic approach to health care — treating the mind, body and spirit.

But before Landon could visit any patients, he needed to pass one final, 10-step test.

Landon not only passed, he also aced his “Canine Good Citizens Test” with flying colors and a cheerful, wagging tail.

Toni Woods is the owner of Spot on Dog Training and a volunteer with The CARE Project. Woods was on hand to administer Landon’s evaluation. First, she greeted his owner, Patt Tull, testing to see if Landon had any adverse reactions to another human approaching his human.

Landon obediently stood by. Woods then emulated a patient and rubbed Landon’s ears, chin, chest, belly and under his paws to check if any spots bothered him. Tull then walked Landon down the hall and back, through a crowd of chattering employees, past someone deliberately opening and dropping an umbrella and even past a stuffed dog.

The stuffed dog received inquisitive sniffs, but nothing more.

In the final step, Tull left Landon solo, going completely out of sight for three minutes. Landon seized the opportunity to rest his paws, lying on the cool lobby floor.

And just like that, he became The CARE Project’s newest Canine CARE member, which includes six dogs.

Landon passes his “Canine Good Citizens Test” which included meeting new humans, distractions and an encounter with a stuffed dog.

Canine CARE: Helping hospitalized patients heal

The CARE Project, in addition to providing Reiki, art therapy and recreational activities, facilitates dog visits for adults at their bedsides during their recovery process. Canine CARE visits help patients cope with hospitalization and provide motivation to engage in treatment. This program includes Certified Therapy Dogs and handlers, both of whom have been screened by UC Davis Health’s Volunteer Services and evaluated to be in the hospital setting.

Landon is specially trained to support adult patients.

“When we bring a therapy dog to the bedside, our patients are often moved to tears at just the sight of them,” said Katie Lorain, creative arts and recreation therapy manager. “Seeing the dog reminds them of their life beyond these walls both physical and emotional. This is an important realization to have when adjusting to a ‘new normal’ such as an illness or injury. And in that moment, they can use the dog to cope and safely connect to on a deeper level. This is the humanistic side of health care, recognizing the humanity and individuality of our patients and reinforcing what is important to them outside of the hospital walls.”

After his evaluation, I tailed (pun very much intended) Landon as he got right to work, visiting six adult patients. During these bedside visits, each patient’s demeanor immediately lifted. And it didn’t stop at the six patients on the visit schedule. Staff at each level also stopped to say hello.

“Seeing [Landon] just made my entire day,” said a discharged patient.

A man sits on a bench bending down to hold a cell phone to the face of a golden retriever wearing a blue service dog vest
UC Davis Health’s Nick Houser “interviews” Landon during his first day as a canine CARE team member.

Before we departed, I asked Landon for his thoughts about his first day. Tull guessed he would probably say the test was easy and that he was eager to visit patients.

He did answer one key question on his own, though, and he made his answer very clear.

“Landon, tell me: Who’s a good boy?” I asked.

Landon swished his tail back and forth excitedly.

“He’s thrilled to be a part of the UC Davis Health team,” Tull interpreted.