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Dogs provide comfort to patients (and staff) at Helena hospital

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-25 11:50:16-04

HELENA — Some of the newest additions to the St. Peter’s Health team aren’t doctors or nurses. In fact, they’re not humans at all - they’re two specially-trained service dogs.

Blue Bonnet and Mocha are both golden retrievers, and they have an important job to do at the hospital.

“Their mission is to support and comfort patients and make them smile,” St. Peter’s Health chaplain Trish Dick said. “If patients smile and are comforted, they’ve done their job.”

Dick works with 5-year-old Blue Bonnet, and St. Peter’s Health Chaplain Kim Pepper works with 3-year-old Mocha.

Blue Bonnet and Mocha came to Montana from Canine Assistants in Georgia—an organization that provides a variety of service dogs for things like seizure detection, diabetic alert, mobility service and dogs from hospitals.

“By the time they place them in a hospital setting, they already have about 3,000 hours in major hospitals in Atlanta,” Pepper said of the dogs.

Blue Bonnet arrived at St. Peter’s after working at Shodair Children’s Hospital. Community and St. Peter’s staff donors helped bring Mocha to the hospital.

Canine Assistants does not charge for their services, so the funds to get Mocha helped train and provide a service dog for another person needing one, Pepper said.

“That’s a really special part of that program for me,” Pepper said. “The work of the Helena community is going to help someone else have an amazing dog like we have.”

Blue Bonnet and Mocha put in a lot of work at St. Peter’s Health.

“I’ve had a patient say it’s like the calm at the center of the storm for them,” Pepper said.

They don’t just comfort patients, they also visit with nurses, doctors and other staff.

“Mocha goes to IT at least a couple times a week and visits them,” Pepper said. “There are other areas that maybe you wouldn’t think of as being front-line at the hospital, but the staff really need that extra support, especially at this time.”

Unofficially called “love radiators,” the two dogs enjoy their time at work.

“They love it!” Dick said. “I think if I left Blue Bonnet at home, she’d be bored.”

And the people they comfort at the hospital love them right back.