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Health care’s fluffy future: Huntsville Hospital introduces Alabama’s first facility dog

Asteroid the golden retriever can provide services based on medical goals, be in the room during procedures, and help with bereavement.

When you think about the future of healthcare advanced technology may come to mind, but at Huntsville Hospital a simpler, much fluffier approach is sharing the spotlight. 

On Thursday WZDX News met the state’s first hospital facility dog, Asteroid the golden retriever. She’ll be comforting and supporting families at the Women and Children’s Hospital.

From helping head trauma patients recall memories to reducing pain, dogs are becoming more and more well-known for how they can help your health. It’s a new direction for the health care industry Huntsville Hospital is leading the state in.

She works 40 hours a week, wears hospital ID badge, and yep, she’s a dog.

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“Everyone asks me, ‘Oh does she bring home a paycheck?’ And I say, ‘Just the love,'” said Stefani Williams, Asteroid’s handler.

Asteroid is making the rounds, so far comforting patients like moms on bed rest and a nonverbal child in emergency care.

“She has helped reduce pain for a child who had surgery and was in excruciating pain and crying nonstop and for the 30, 45 minutes Asteroid was in her room she didn’t cry a single time,” Williams said. “And so we’re already seeing the ways that she is gonna change lives here at Huntsville Hospital.”

But having a hospital facility dog isn’t just about making patients feel more comfortable; Williams says it can also speed up their recovery.

“She helps encourage ambulation after surgery, kids are more likely to be compliant with their medication and treatment when she’s around,” Williams said.

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It’s seen as a shift in the health care industry and one that also impacts staff in the high-stress environment. It’s a focus on the power of mental ease on physical health.

“That patients feel they’re well taken care of while they’re here is huge,” Williams said. “I think the medical field in general is moving toward making patients feel comfortable.”

Williams says this is the way of the future and she plans to get more dogs.

Asteroid is part of the Canines for Coping program that just launched this month. She can provide services based on medical goals, be in the room during procedures, and help with bereavement.

Having a facility dog is catching on in the state. Alabama is the first to have a statewide facility dog program through the Office of Prosecution Services. The dogs comfort crime victims, especially children, as they go through the court process.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center introduced their first facility dog last month. Wilson the facility dog is helping children feel comfortable talking about their abuse. In his first month and a half he’s already worked 62 cases.

Tune in to WZDX News at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to see how Asteroid will be making a difference for people battling health problems at Huntsville Hospital.

Related stories: Alabama first to have statewide “comfort dog” program

New facility dog helping kids at the National Children’s Advocacy Center