FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — New co-workers will soon be making their way to Mercy Hospital-Fort Smith, only these workers have four legs.

When Baxter the therapy dog first began visiting patients and co-workers at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith last summer, the positive response was immediate, the hospital said. Now, a trio of new canines has joined Mercy’s therapy dog program, with River, Honeybun and Lola Belle now part of the volunteer staff.

“We are thrilled to have additional therapy dog teams visiting us every week,” said Jenni Powell, manager of volunteer services at Mercy Fort Smith. “We began the therapy dog program last year and saw significant benefits. The dogs really brighten everyone’s day and help bring a sense of calm to those who need it most.”

The release notes the goal of therapy dogs, which is to help reduce patients’ anxiety. Other goals for the program include improving patients’ quality of stay, mood and emotional well-being, while providing comfort and joy; increasing interactions and dialogue; increasing overall patient satisfaction; and providing stress relief for hospital staff, visitors and families.

According to a press release, Honeybun an eight-year-old Chihuahua comes by way of Faith Walker, a student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. When Walker heard about the program, she knew it’d be a great opportunity for her and her personal therapy dog.

“She loves seeing everyone and making everyone happy,” Walker said. “She brings a lot of joy to me while also spreading a little love around the community. That’s something I’m really passionate about.”

River comes from volunteer Kaley Moore, an assistant coach for the Southside High School basketball team. River, a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees-Australian Shepherd mix, visits the hospital regularly.

“He loves it; he’s awesome at it,” Moore said of River. “I definitely think dogs make everything better.”

Mercy says River has been most helpful when he and Moore are with patients and families when they receive difficult news. “People will cry and just hug him,” Moore said. “It’s awesome to see the energy they get back. It’s really cool to see how instantly a dog can change things, whether it’s the mood or the energy in the room.”

River has been most helpful when he and Moore are with patients and families when they receive difficult news.

Debbie and Larry Wright recently began bringing Lola Belle for hospital visits after receiving certification around Christmas, and they have been visiting the hospital about once a week since then, stopping by as many departments as possible, the release said.

Like Baxter, Lola Belle is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. While visiting Baxter, Debbie thought her dog would be a capable companion as well. The couple then got in touch with Mercy to begin the therapy dog certification process.

“You can say, ‘Let’s go to the hospital and see people,’ and she’s all about it,” Larry Wright said. “She was my comfort dog, but she turned into a therapy dog.”

Volunteer Robert Mercer assists in getting the dogs trained and certified as therapy dogs, while Powell works with the dog’s caretaker on the volunteer side. The Alliance of National Therapy Dogs vouches for the dog following the certification process. Because both dog and handler are one team, both are signed up as volunteers. The therapy-dog certification process takes several months.

Anyone interested in Mercy’s therapy dog program can email Jenni Powell at or visit Mercy’s website.