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Therapeutic Pups

Therapeutic Pups is an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) or “pet therapy” service provided at Children’s National. Therapeutic Pups started in 2010 in the outpatient Eating Disorders Clinic when the clinic’s director, Darlene Atkins, Ph.D., began using a dog (Murphy, a Bichon Frise) in her psychotherapy with adolescents with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Clinic patients range from ages 9 to 19 and parents are involved actively in the evaluation and treatment process.

Prior to coming to the clinic, patients and parents are asked permission for the dog to be present in their evaluation or treatment sessions. They are given the opportunity to express any reservations or decline participation.

In 2011, the Pink House Foundation awarded the Therapeutic Pups program a grant in support of its innovative approach to treating eating disorders patients.

Why Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Eating disorders have physical and psychological effects that derail healthy adolescent development. Patients suffering from disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia often become detached from themselves and from others. They may withdraw to the point that their primary relationship is with the eating disorder, to the detriment of family and peer relationships and a capacity for relatedness and intimacy. They commonly deny their illness and are resistant to treatment. Including a therapeutic dog in the evaluation and treatment of eating disorder patients offers a unique way to engage and reach these patients.

While several inpatient and residential treatment centers incorporate the use of animal-assisted therapy, many with horses and some with dogs, Children's National is pioneering the use of pet therapy in outpatient psychotherapy for adolescents with eating disorders.

Please Note: Therapeutic Pups does not offer therapy dog training or certification.

Contact Information

For more information about Therapeutic Pups, contact Darlene M. Atkins, Ph.D., at or 202-476-2164.

Meet Murphy

Our current therapeutic pup is Murphy, a 9-year-old Bichon Frise. He has received extensive training and has achieved his Canine Good Citizen award through the American Kennel Club.

Helpful Resources

Children's National offers helpful resources about animal-assisted therapy.


Read stories from patients, families and clinicians about Therapeutic Pups.

Photo Gallery

View photos of our therapeutic pup, Murphy, a Bichon Frise who has worked with Children's National patients for many years.

Contact Us

Learn how to get in contact with Darlene M. Atkins, Ph.D., and Therapeutic Pups.

See Photos of Murphy

Therapeutic pup Murphy meets Dr. Bear

Therapeutic pup Murphy has helped many patients at Children's National.

View Gallery