By Brianna Wilson

Choco Celebrates One Year at UNM Children’s Hospital!

Most people envy dogs for their ability to go through life eating, playing, sleeping and repeating. But did you know some work a 9-5 and get benefits?


Meet Choco, The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital facility dog, who has an extraordinary work ethic. This golden retriever gladly puts in her 40 hours a week—like most humans—offering support to children and their families who need it most.

“People think she’s here just for people to pet,” said UNM Child Life Specialist Amber Sargent, MA, CCLS, CTRS. “She is also here to help support them.”

Choco will soon celebrate one year of lifting patients’ and employees’ spirits throughout the hospital, but Sargent said Canine Assistants began preparing Choco for this role long before then. 

“We started the process more than three years prior to us getting her,” she said. “We were working with Canine Assistants to get put on the list and working out contracts and policies between them and the hospital on being able to have a dog here.”

Then, the pandemic hit and delayed Choco’s start date at UNM Hospital to September of last year.

“She has adjusted really well,” Sargent said. “She loves being able to see all of the staff here, as well as all the patients and their families. She really loves coming to work every day, and she loves being able to spend time with each and every patient that she goes to see.”

People think she’s here just for people to pet. She is also here to help support them.
Amber Sargent, MA, CCLS, CTRS, UNM Child Life specialist


The Child Life team at UNM Children’s Hospital has adjusted to accommodate their four-legged coworker too, by installing an outdoor space for her and other service animals to use. Sargent said her own typical day-to-day work with children has changed significantly, since Choco starting working alongside her.

“I use her during distractions,” she explained. “Instead of using toys, I get to use her. I have patients ask her questions.”

And yes, Choco does answer in her own special way. She also knows how to read a room and when to be calm or energetic, depending on what her patient needs. 

“We also use her to sit next to patients when they're having pokes done or if they're having a dressing change,” Sargent continued. “She might sit in a chair next to them, so they can pet her while they're getting those things done.”

When Choco is not hard at work, she goes home with Sargent, her coworker and handler.

“I see a totally different dog,” Sargent said. “I see a dog that knows she's off the clock. She gets to take her little backpack off, and she runs outside immediately and plays with all of her toys.”

Sargent said Choco’s other hobbies include hiking and going for walks, but she is just as happy sitting on the couch and watching TV with her mom, dad and 6-month-old baby brother Milo.

Other fun facts about Choco:

  • Choco is short for chocolate because she was born in a Canine Assistants litter sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts. Her six siblings also bare sweet names like swirl caramel and jellybean!
  • All of Choco’s siblings work as hospital facility dogs across the country
  • She is bilingual and responds to commands in both English and Spanish
  • She was recently honored as NM United’s Everyday Hero
  • Her favorite shoes are Crocs in pink!
  • Choco loves to take herself for walks by holding her leash in her mouth
  • Her favorite sport is soccer
  • Her favorite color is blue
  • Choco was born on December 10th, which makes her a Sagittarius
  • Choco met her handlers on Sept. 19, 2023 and started working with them on Sept. 26, 2023
Categories: Children's Hospital, Community Engagement, News You Can Use, Top Stories