St. Peter’s Health Expands Facility Dog Program

September 15, 2021

Local health care system welcomes golden retrievers Mocha and Blue Bonnet

St. Peter’s Health today announced the expansion of their Facility Dog Program, growing their therapeutic and holistic support offerings for patients, employees and visitors. The program consists of two specially trained facility dogs and their handlers, members of the St. Peter’s Chaplain Services team.

Three-year-old golden retriever, Mocha, is the newest member of the St. Peter’s Facility Dog program. Mocha’s handler is St. Peter’s Chaplain Kim Pepper, M.Div., Th.M. She shares that while both the St. Peter’s family and her own family grew by four feet, providing another way for patients to connect with their emotions is the most exciting part. “This is another layer of care for our patients and their families,” says Pepper. “Sometimes people find a stronger emotional connection to a dog rather than a chaplain for their comfort and healing.”

Blue Bonnet, a five-year-old golden retriever, and her handler St. Peter’s Chaplain Trish Dick, M.Div joined the St. Peter’s team in June 2021. Previously, Blue Bonnet spread love to staff and patients at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena.

Both dogs were born, raised and educated by Canine Assistants, a non-profit located in Georgia that specializes in training facility dogs for hospital settings. Unlike some service dogs who are dedicated to assisting their handlers, facility dogs are encouraged to interact with people as they roam the facilities alongside their handler. Both Mocha and Blue Bonnet have clocked over 3,000 training hours at major Atlanta hospitals, and today, their responsibilities are to provide affection, comfort and support.

“We know that a stay in the hospital can be anxiety-provoking and stressful,” says St. Peters Senior Nursing Director Kari Koehler, MSN, RN. “These gentle dogs provide a special type of therapy for our patients that is unmatched. Patients love when they visit their room or see them in the hallway. In fact, many request them to come back for another visit.”

According to John Hopkins University rehabilitation and Intensive Care Unit experts, therapy animals are a great example of nonpharmacological (non-medication) interventions that can help patients become active and more engaged in their recovery.

Facility dog programs in health care systems are not just for patients. Employees also reap the benefits. St. Peter’s Operating Room Registered Nurse Emily Blaylock recently shared a photo of Blue Bonnet on her personal Instagram account. In the short breaks nurses can manage while on shift, Blaylock shared, “Every hospital needs a Blue Bonnet.”

Prior to expanding and formalizing the St. Peter’s Facility Dog program, there has been a long line of furry volunteers providing comfort to patients and staff over the years. “We are especially grateful for our trained volunteers who brought their dogs to St. Peter’s to visit our patients and staff in the past, and those who continue to do so,” Pepper shares. “It was because of their time and commitment to offering this service that we recognized we wanted to formalize a program.” 

The St. Peter’s Health Facility Dog Program is funded by generous donors in our community, including major gifts by Dick Anderson Construction; Merrill Lynch-Anderson, Hedge, Wagner, Kienitz & Associates; MDU Resources Foundation; Centron Services; Credit Associates; Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry and Hoven, P.C.; MDU Resources Foundation; and Kristin and Tom Kerr. Twenty-one other generous individuals have donated including St. Peter’s employees who choose to allocate dollars to the program through the St. Peter’s Health Foundation Employee Giving Campaign.