Therapy Dogs Are Special at Family House

by James Shaffner, Family House Volunteer

Published on April 28, 2021

I have been asked several times before, “What do therapy dogs actually do at Family House?” I brought Misty Moonlight to Family House to visit the kids, and sometimes the adults too. But I don’t understand what she does — especially from her perspective. So, I decided to ask her. Misty is a dog of very few words, so I didn’t expect much of an answer. Boy, was I surprised! She thought about it for a while, and then off she went. I am going to summarize her lengthy response for you here. Here she goes:

I show up and just be there. Each child will get something different from me depending on how their day, and their entire life is going. Their thoughts are shifted to me or to the pets they miss at home. They also think about the pets that they want to get when they return home.

James (left), 4Paws therapy dog volunteer, with Misty (center), and another playful therapy dog (right) at Family House San Francisco

Some kids are afraid of me at first. When I sense this, I don’t approach them. I let them approach me in their own time. Sometimes, they need to see another child pet me, and then they finally take a chance and come closer and even pet me. I always end up being friends with everyone.

One little girl of about 3 or 4 years old was afraid of me and watched from a distance as her brother petted me. After about a half-hour, she got around to pet me too. James asked her if she would like to have a dog of her own. She said, “No, a cat.” I know how she feels because I love cats, too.
Many kids tell me about the dogs that they have, waiting for them at home. They tell me how they take care of their dogs and the tricks that they can do. One boy even got to bring his dog to Family House. His name was Piper, and he wanted so much to play with me. He was very handsome, but he was way out of my play level.

When the kids are busy with exciting activities, I join in as well. I love art projects. I can do paw prints and nose art. I also love group activities and other fun sessions.

I am always in awe of the strength and vigor of the children staying at Family House. All of them are getting treatment at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Whenever I go meet these kids, I get inspired by their positivity and bravery. I love going to Family House and spending time with kids and getting to know them.

In loving memory of Misty, who passed away earlier this month after 15 years of life!


Family House San Francisco is an independent non-profit organization led by a professional staff and board of directors dedicated to providing residential services free-of-charge to qualifying families. Since we receive no financial support from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, or any other public entity, we rely solely on the generous contributions of individuals, corporations, and foundations. 

Donate in Honor of Misty