All dogs are special, but Cooper really knows how to work it.
The lovable and very professional chocolate Lab/golden retriever mix was recently hired as the Chief Joy Officer of the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins charity, Joy in Childhood Foundation. He serves as the first canine leader of the Foundation’s Dogs for Joy program, which employs specially trained pups to provide comfort and companionship to very sick and needy children across the country. Inspiring confidence and instilling strength in his young friends, Cooper brings joy to kids who need it the most, in the most challenging of circumstances.
Dogs for Joy and the Joy in Childhood Foundation were developed by Kari McHugh, who is also the Executive Director. McHugh decided to launch this program after losing her 12-year-old son Michael to pediatric cancer. That tragic experience, as well as the deep gaps in research seen in the pediatric care space, led to the formation of this independent charitable organization (powered by Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins), whose mission is twofold: to increase the number of facility dog programs by awarding more than $2 million in grants to children’s hospitals across the country — and to bring joy and therapeutic puppy love to pediatric patients. For kids in hospitals, in-residence dogs have proven to be one of the most impactful ways to improve mental and physical well-being.
McHugh spoke to PEOPLE about the Dogs for Joy program, its first adopted ambassador, Cooper, and why four paws, a cold nose and a wagging tail can be the best (and definitely the cutest) medicine.
Just under two years old, Cooper hails from Canine Assistants in Milton, Georgia, where he was trained to be an in-residence dog. “Through Canine Assistants’ Children’s Hospital Initiative, Cooper learned how to bring joy to pediatric patients and their families,” says McHugh, “from providing distraction to easing anxiety and stress and helping patients complete their health care goals. Cooper was born and bred to be an in-residence dog and to bring joy to those around him … [he] quite literally chose us – of all the dogs we met … Cooper bonded with us immediately and made it clear he was ready to move to Boston.”
McHugh is Cooper’s main handler, which means she is ultimately responsible for his safety, care, companionship, exercise, health, and training. McHugh tells PEOPLE “in-residence dogs are cared for by a primary handler with whom they live and work. In hospital settings, this usually includes doctors, chaplains and child life specialists … Cooper is really cared for and loved by everyone at Dunkin’ Brands.”
So, what is Cooper’s typical work day like? “As the ‘Chief Joy Officer’ and official ambassador of the Joy in Childhood Foundation, Cooper’s primary goal is to spread joy to everyone he meets,” says McHugh. “He typically comes to work every day at Dunkin’ Brands headquarters and is often spotted by the water cooler, sniffing out the latest news, attending meetings and barking his opinion, and sometimes can be caught taking the occasional nap in a friend’s cubicle. He is, by far, the company’s most popular four-legged employee. When he’s not at the workplace, Cooper travels to attend Joy in Childhood Foundation events and he is the official spokesdog.”
According to McHugh, Cooper is proficient in ‘PAWerPoint,’ i.e. looking at photos of his favorite treats and pointing to those he wants. Speaking of treats, Cooper’s resume says he also acts as a consultant for the company’s many donut and ice creams flavors. Although he enjoys all the flavors, he is “partial to the Dog Donut, a treat made especially for him and other dogs by the Dunkin’ Brands Culinary team. While the recipe is top secret, we can reveal that it contains three different kinds of meat – chicken liver, beef and bacon – any dog’s dream come true.”
Of course, Cooper is also quite skilled at making kids’ dreams come true too. McHugh tells PEOPLE that donut decorating and ice-cream sundae parties with Cooper are all part of the job. It was during one of these yummy sessions at “his very first hospital visit at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort-Worth, Texas … that Cooper met one special boy who took the time to pet him, cuddle with him and teach him how to catch.” The boy stole Cooper’s heart, and McHugh says his fetch game has gotten immeasurably better ever since.
When Cooper isn’t working or snacking, McHugh reports that like many dogs, he “loves a good belly rub” and “playing fetch,” as well as “rooting around in trash cans and taking a long nap.” This popular pup has “a full roster of friends who like to take him on runs in the Blue Hills near Dunkin’ Brands Headquarters.”
Currently, Cooper is the only Dogs for Joy ambassador, but McHugh says his buddy Bean, a golden retriever, gave birth a few months ago to the first litter of Joy in Childhood Foundation puppies. “The pups — Dunkin’, Baskin, Sprinkle, Scoop, Glaze, Chai, Hero, Mocha, Milly, and Chino — will be taught all the skills Cooper has learned, and many will be placed in grantee hospitals around the country when they are ready,” says McHugh.
The Joy in Childhood Foundation invites children’s hospitals nationwide to apply for a Dogs for Joy grant if they are interested in launching a new in-residence dog program or expanding an existing program. Applicants can submit here through March 31, 2019. Learn more about the program via Instagram now.