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  • Giselle Smith

Pet therapy

Every dog has its day, but some dogs get a lot of days—special days, that is. These are days when the dogs of Baptist Health Hardin’s pet therapy program don their purple vests and name badges and head to work with their owners with one goal—to comfort people and make them smile.


Jessica Jasper pictured in front of the hospital sign with Roxie a Blue Heeler
Pet therapy at Baptist Health

Bentley, Penny, Rhett, Roxie, and Weller are the stars of the hospital’s pet therapy program, which spreads cheer among patients, visitors, and staff, and has even deeper implications for patients’ mental and emotional well-being and comfort.


Jessica Jasper, director of the hospital’s Spiritual Care Department and pet therapy program founder, said that the happiness and unconditional friendship the dogs bring can help patients relax, get lost in the moment, and confide in the chaplains.


Life in the hospital—even for short-term stays—can produce anxiety or fear. “Being away from home and feeling that loss of control is not uncommon,” Jasper said. “The pet therapy program brings some sense of home and normalcy.”


The dogs are also consoling to patients with terminal diagnoses or family members experiencing grief or loss. “The dogs help open the door for me as a chaplain to really go deep with people about their fears or concerns, or what they are looking forward to. For some families, the dogs have a calming presence during these challenging times.”

The dogs usually interact with patients from five minutes to an hour, which Jasper said can be especially comforting to patients who miss their own dogs at home.


The dogs must pass a training course certified by the American Kennel Club, as well as adhering to a strict regimen of regular bathing, nail clipping, and brushing. “It sounds like a lot of fun, bringing your dog to work, but it’s actually a lot of work—and it’s worth it,” said Jasper.




Some patients who see the dogs regularly, such as those who perform therapy onsite or receive routine cancer treatments, have bonded with the dogs and look forward to seeing them. Some even bring them treats.


The number one job requirement? A good temperament and obedience. It’s clear that these dogs have both, as they wag their tails excitedly when visitors pass, and hope that someone will pet them and give them a kind word. These five are living proof that when something has “gone to the dogs,” it’s not so bad. In fact, it can be a very “pawsitive” thing for all.


The pet therapy program is made possible by Baptist Health Foundation Hardin and the generous support of its donors.


Elizabethtown Lifestyle Magazine

Bentley is a Standard Poodle. A one-and-a-half-year-old boy, he loves his tennis ball and going to play with his friends at the dog park. He loves to eat anything and everything. Bentley is pictured with his owner, Kayce Stewart, patient scheduler for Outpatient Oncology and patient Brenda Stump.


Penny, short for Penelope, is an eight-month-old black Goldendoodle. She is an energetic pup who loves stealing her human sister’s stuffed animals and chewing on things, especially books. She recently devoured “Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day,” by Kate Bowler. Her favorite treat is cheese. Penny is pictured with her owner, Jessica Jasper, director of Spiritual Care.

Rhett, a Great Dane, is between six and seven years old. He is pictured with his owner, Sara Prewitt, dialysis manager, who found him on the road. After several unsuccessful attempts to find his owners, he became family. Rhett’s favorite activity is “counter-surfing.” He was recently caught stealing party desserts from the kitchen counter. He loves his stuffed donkey, sunbathing, and belly rubs. Prewitt said, “He loves his role at Baptist Health Hardin.”

Roxie is a one-year-old Blue Heeler, and the most recent addition to the pet therapy program. She loves her ball, playing fetch, and jumping in the pond. Her favorite treat is chicken jerky. Roxie is pictured with her owner Erin Priddy, Community Health and Wellness manager.


Weller is a one-and-a-half-year-old Standard Goldendoodle who loves his squeaky toys and a good tennis ball. He also loves his time playing with his dog and human siblings. Weller’s favorite treat is beef trachea or anything with peanut butter. Weller is pictured with his owner, Allison Reed former medical technologist at Baptist Health Hardin, who has recently transferred to Baptist Health Louisville.


Elizabethtown Lifestyle Magazine

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