One of the newest employees at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children has four legs. While her training is highly skilled – she was specially chosen to work in a hospital setting because of her demeanor – her job description is pretty simple: to love and be loved. And in her first few weeks on the job, she’s already made a tremendous difference for her patients, both children and adults, and for the hospital staff who have overwhelmingly embraced her.

Aster is in demand throughout the hospital on a consult basis. “The hard part is when we’re walking down the hall and someone says, ‘Oh, can you come say hi?’” says Stefani, who loves watching faces light up when they see Aster.

She regularly visits children in the emergency department, radiation/imaging, pediatric intensive care, general pediatric unit and neonatal intensive care, where she doesn’t visit with premature babies but does provide family and sibling support. She also visits adult patients in the intensive care and antepartum units.

On an average day, the hospital has 200 pediatric patients, so “we’re filtering through a lot of requests,” says Elizabeth.

The hospital still has its volunteer-driven pet therapy program, in which trained dogs make short visits with patients. “They see way more patients than Aster and I can see,” says Stefani. “Aster and I have medically based goals: reducing pain, helping patients ambulate after surgery, being present in bereavement and trauma. We’re both employees here, which opens the door for us to provide treatment-based services.”


Asteroid, a young golden retriever, is one of the most popular employees at the hospital. (Photo courtesy of Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children)