Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena sees hundreds of patients each year that have a mental illness or other psychiatric problem.
Connecting with each patient can be difficult, but Shodair’s only four-legged employee - named Blue Bonnet, or Blue for short - seems to excel in forming those bonds.
Blue is a 3-year-old golden retriever that serves as the Hospital’s facility dog. “She really is a miracle dog,” said Trish Dick, a counselor at Shodair.
Dick brings Blue to work every day and the two work on making a difference in the day-to-day lives of Shodair’s patients.
Staff say Blue is especially good at helping even the most guarded patients open up.
“I had a child in my office and as she started petting Blue she just started talking about her family life,” said Dick. “Then she said ‘Do you think it’s safe enough for me to tell you a secret?’ and I told her it was alright, then she started to share about her abuse.”
“It’s really neat to watch Blue with our kids,” said Allie Trent, RN. “We see a lot of kids who struggle with not being able to find hope and Blue really brings a sense of hope to these kids. They look forward to seeing and being with Blue. They know that if tomorrow Blue is going to be here for them and they’re excited for tomorrow, and that’s really what we try to do here is give these kids a sense of hope.”
Blue came to Shodair from Canine Assistance, a non-profit organization that specializes in placing service dogs. Blue is also the first dog from Canine Assistance to work in a Children’s Psychiatric hospital.
As a puppy Blue was specifically trained to recognize the emotions of a person and how to appropriately respond, with an emphasis on bonding.
She has been with Shodair since 2018 and is considered a full-time employee by Shodair, complete with a hospital badge and business cards.
Every patient and Shodair staff member MTN saw interacting with Blue instantly light up and wanted to see her.
“Blue can turn the absolute worst days into the absolute best days,” said Trent. “No matter how hard the unit is that day, all of our staff can calm down and just take a minute and take a breath with Blue for themselves and just recoup and reset really.”
Blue cost $25,000 and was paid for by donations through Spirit Halloween stores.