St. Peter's implementing visitor restrictions due to increase in flu activity

HELENA, Mont. - In order to grow their therapeutic and holistic support for patients, employees and visitors, St. Peter’s Health announced the expansion of their Facility Dog Program.

According to a release, the program consists of two trained facility dogs and members of the St. Peter’s Chaplain Services team who serve as their handlers.

Three-year-old golden retriever Mocha, handled by St. Peter's Chaplain Kim Pepper, is the newest member of the program.

Pepper says 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,” she said. “Sometimes people find a stronger emotional connection to a dog rather than a chaplain for their comfort and healing.”

Both joining the team in June, golden retriever Blue Bonnet, 5, is handled by St. Peter’s Chaplain Trish Dick.

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, facility dogs interact with everyone 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 are now responsible for providing affection, comfort and support.

“We know that a stay in the hospital can be anxiety-provoking and stressful,” St. Peter's Senior Nursing Director Kari Koehler, said. “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.”

But 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 receive while on shift, Blaylock shared, “Every hospital needs a Blue Bonnet.”

Prior to the program, there has been a long line of furry volunteers providing comfort to patients and staff over the years at St. Peter's.

“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 said. “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 individuals donated including St. Peter’s employees who choose to allocate dollars to the program through the St. Peter’s Health Foundation Employee Giving Campaign.

For more information on St. Peter's Health, you can visit

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