Canines Contribute to Care at Wake Forest Baptist

February 29, 2016

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has more than 700 volunteers. Sixteen of them have paws.

These 16 – all dogs – are members of Wake Forest Baptist’s Animal Assisted Therapy program. Representing a variety of breeds – including Portuguese water dog, golden retriever, pug and springer spaniel – they contribute to treatment and healing in a variety of ways.

Animal Assisted TherapyThe dogs work with inpatients and outpatients of all ages in different areas of the Medical Center, from Brenner Children’s Hospital to the Sticht Center on Aging. The services they provide range from helping people with brain injuries regain their motor skills to simply easing the stress and anxiety that can come from being in the hospital.

“It’s a pleasure to work with these wonderful dogs and their owners,” said Suzanne Melcher Thompson, who has been the coordinator of the Animal Assisted Therapy program since it was established in 1999. “No matter where they are or what their particular task may be, the dogs always bring smiles to people here. And not just patients. Family members, visitors and the staff also enjoy seeing the dogs and, I think, benefit from their presence.” 

All the therapy dogs at Wake Forest Baptist are certified by one of two national organizations, and each one had to pass a behavior and temperament test before receiving a Medical Center ID badge and gold volunteer vest. (The dogs’ owners, meanwhile, are subject to the same application and screening process as all other prospective volunteers.)

One of the therapy dogs on active duty is Sadie, a six-year-old golden retriever-lab mix who visits patients at Wake Forest Baptist once a week.

“Sadie has been a therapy dog since she was a year old and going to the hospital is the highlight of her week,” said her owner, Catherine Rutter of Winston-Salem.

For more information about Wake Forest Baptist’s Animal Assisted Therapy program, call 336-713-3088 or send an email to  

Media Relations

Eryn Johnson:, 336-713-8228

Mac Ingraham:, 336-716-3487