Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Resumes Animal Assisted Therapy Program

March 25, 2022

Note: High quality versions of these and additional photos and videos can be downloaded here.

Bella with a Teammate
Bella visiting an antepartum patient at The Birth Center at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. 

The animal assisted therapy (AAT) program at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recently resumed its visits to patients at the NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and in the antepartum unit at The Birth Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has largely been on hold the past two years. 

“We’re so excited to bring back this valued program for our patients, families and staff,” said Suzanne Thompson, coordinator of the AAT program at Wake Forest Baptist. “The power of these four-legged angels is immense.”

Bella with a Teammate
Patients aren’t the only ones who love visits from therapy dogs – teammates do too.

Bella, a seven-year-old Goldendoodle owned by Karen Pranikoff, was one of the first dogs back to visit patients.

“It’s great to be back visiting patients and staff; Bella didn’t miss a beat – she remembered exactly what to do,” Pranikoff said. “I enjoy this as much as she does. It’s a wonderful addition to recreational therapy. A lot of these patients miss their own animals and this offers them some comfort and normalcy.”

Bella at the Cancer Center
Next to receiving belly rubs, Bella’s favorite pastime is receiving peanut butter treats. 

Wake Forest Baptist’s AAT program is currently re-onboarding eight dogs ranging in size from a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to a Great Pyrenees. Prior to the pandemic, the program consisted of 26 dogs.

All dogs within the program wear their own volunteer badge and vest.

To become certified as a therapy animal at Wake Forest Baptist, dogs must be trained and pass an accredited behavioral and temperament test, including the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. These pups also maintain current veterinary vaccinations and certification records.

Those who are interested in joining the AAT program, can email Suzanne Thompson at
Media contact: Eryn Johnson,, 336-905-1442.