Pooch with a purpose: Therapy dog lends a paw at local hospital

Einstein, a moptop, doe-eyed Goldendoodle, has never met a stranger.

That makes him perfect for his new role as a therapy dog at Columbus Regional Hospital, where he made his debut Thursday, visiting everyone from the top hospital administrators to visitors passing through to see a patient.

Einstein first hobnobbed with the hospital’s executive board in a conference room where he received an enthusiastic welcome. The dog convinced hospital President and CEO Jim Bickel that the proceedings could wait, giving Bickel a chance to scratch Einstein behind the ears and welcome him to his new role.

As Einstein headed out to hospital departments and patient rooms, the dog approached every patient with the same quiet confidence and enthusiasm that he shows to everyone he meets.

“Oh Einstein, you’re lovely,” said Marjorie Anthony of Columbus, who was recuperating on the physical therapy floor in a hospital bed and immediately connected with the dog.

Einstein gladly offered his head for a pat and nuzzled Anthony’s arm.

“If you’re lonely, you can come and stay with me. You can be my roommate,” she said. “Thanks for cheering me up.”

Einstein became the hospital’s newest therapy dog through the efforts of Doug Bell, who works in facilities management at the hospital. He has been known as the owner of Bonnie, a beloved collie who made more than 630 therapy dog visits to hospital patients before retiring in 2016.

While grieving the loss of Bonnie in January, Bell at the time said he would consider certifying another dog to continue the visits that had meant so much to him and his beloved collie.

Einstein enters the picture

In June, Bell was working at the hospital when someone mentioned that a Goldendoodle, a golden retriever and poodle mix, needed a home due to a family tragedy and some bad luck.

Adrienne Hatton, who had retired from working at the hospital’s lab department, reached out to her colleagues for help after her husband developed allergies to the dog and the family could no longer keep Einstein.

Her son, Chris, had agreed to take the dog. But tragically, he died and the family was again looking for someone to take in their pet.

“Einstein was my pooch for almost 12 years,” Hatton said, gently petting the dog while talking with Bell in the hospital lobby. “He is the world’s most gentle dog. He just likes to be petted.”

Having Bell certify Einstein as a therapy dog is a match that is perfect for both, Hatton said.

Instead of staying home all day, Einstein now has a mission to help patients in the hospital and area nursing homes, she said.

The 73-pound dog has been staying in touch with Hatton as Bell sends her pictures of Einstein playing at home with Bell’s two collies.

Based on his size, some patients have joked that Einstein looks more like a Shetland pony than a dog. Bell is happy to say there are times he has thought about putting a saddle on him.

But size works to the dog’s advantage.

The Goldendoodle is big enough that most patients don’t have to stretch or lean over to reach their hand to him when standing, which is particularly good for physical therapy patients who meet him while walking in the hall, Bell said.

What’s in a name?

He got the name Einstein because of the way he looks, Hatton said, a fluffy biscuit-colored coat that has a shaggy dog look around his face.

“It’s not because of what he knows,” Hatton said.

Instead, he’s named after famed scientist Albert Einstein for the “big hair” and “soulful eyes,” she said.

There’s no connection to the dog named Einstein in the “Back to the Future” movie series.

Hatton reunited with her coworkers in the hospital lab along with Einstein, and they immediately brought out dog biscuits, which Einstein graciously accepted.

“Now I’m his best friend, said LeeAnn Stanley, a medical technician from North Vernon.

“You’re melting my heart,” she said to him. “Did my kids tell you that they want a dog?”

Bell explains there really wasn’t that much training involved in getting Einstein’s certification as a therapy dog.

“I recognized he had talent,” Bell said. “He’s just born for this. There was no training required. That’s the beauty of rescue dogs. This dog has the right chemistry with people.”

Describing Einstein as a born politician, Bell said the dog will work a crowd just for pats on the head and a chat.

“He literally talks to them,” Bell said of the nonverbal communication the dog gives as he meets with a patient or a nurse.

He stays until the next person comes along, and is learning to navigate hallways with wheelchairs with the help of Bell.


Certified through Love on a Leash, Einstein went through 10 hours of supervised visits and continuing evaluations before he received his therapy dog vest and certification in the mail, something that Bell found to be particularly moving.

“To have Einstein do that, I know what it means to Adrienne — and we wanted his first visit to be to the hospital lab. We knew that would be important to her,” he said.

Hatton was teary-eyed as she prepared to leave Einstein to his new therapy-dog duties with Bell, saying she knows the dog will continue to be shared between the Bell and Hatton families as Bell keeps her updated on Einstein’s adventures and accomplishments.

“Out of all the things that have happened, this is so good,” she said.