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Miniature Pony Works To Bring Comfort At Akron Children’s Hospital

Petie the Pony puts a smile on a patients face in her hospital room. He was the first miniature pony to get certified to do therapy work inside of a hospital. Photo courtesy of Sue Miller.
Petie the Pony puts a smile on a patient’s face in her hospital room. He was the first miniature pony to get certified to do therapy work inside of a hospital. Photo courtesy of Sue Miller.

Akron Children’s Hospital has enlisted the help of the Doggie Brigade to comfort patients since 1992. This specialized group of dogs offers children joy in the face of their medical issues with the opportunity to have a visit from a trained animal during their hospital stay. Though the group is made up mostly of varying dog breeds, it also contains one special member, Willie Nelson, the miniature pony. However, Willie is not the first miniature horse to make its debut in the Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade. The Hospital began hosting horses around 20 years ago starting with another horse who worked with the program for many years.

Willie Nelson, the miniature pony, comforts a patient in her room at Akron Children’s Hospital. After the miniature horses get certified, they are free to visit certain patients throughout the hospital. Photo courtesy of Sue Miller

“Before Willie Nelson, we had another mini named Petie the Pony, and he did it for 21 years,” said Sue Miller, the owner of the therapeutic riding program “Victory Gallup”, where the miniature horses are located.

Bringing horses into a hospital was a very new idea when Miller and her husband first attempted to involve their horse with the children.

“We were the first program in the United States to get a pony certified to go into a hospital,” Miller said. 

The process of getting Petie certified took a while, and the couple had to work their way up to dog-level status in the hospital.

“The hardest thing originally was the hospital getting the concept, you know a horse is considered livestock, how are you going to make sure it doesn’t poop in the hospital, and those kind of things, just being something out of the norm,” Miller said, “But, Akron has always been super good about trying new things,”

Miller and her husband began the process by bringing their horse to areas that were strictly appointment-based originally, then it grew from there into what it is today.

Petie the Pony walks down the hallway with a young patient. He worked at Akron Children’s Hospital for over 20 years. Photo courtesy of Sue Miller.

“We would bring mats and have him stand on a mat and kids who were doing their appointments could visit him while going to their appointments or lab tests,” Miller said.

After about a year of success, Akron Children granted Petie and Miller access to their rooftop playgrounds.

“There used to be playgrounds on the rooftops in the hospital, so then they were like well maybe we could have you go to the playground so kids from the various floors could go out to the playground,” Miller said.

Once again, their new privileges proved to be successful with the children and the duo received more and more merit within the hospital. 

As news about the miniature pony spread throughout the floors, children who could not go outside began to ask for visits as well.

“There were kids who were on floors that would hear about us and really wanted to see him,” Miller said, “So then they would let us go up to one floor, and just visit one kid and come back down,” 

As Miller and her pony gained more and more recognition, they were able to visit children throughout the hospital, just like the dogs a part of the Doggie Brigade.

“Once the hospital got familiar with how we cleaned him and prepared him it all kind of worked out,” Miller said, “After that, we got free liberty to cruise around,”

Overall, throughout their visit to Akron Children’s Hospital, Miller and her ponies have brought joy to countless kids suffering serious medical conditions.

“We’re only there for a few minutes in each kid’s room but, for those few minutes it gives them something else to talk about,” Miller said.

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About the Contributor
Emma Lynn
Emma Lynn, Staff Writer
Emma Lynn is the Social Media Editor for the Bruin. This is her first year on staff and her favorite part is getting to be with her friends and learn more about the community. This year she is excited to design cool pages and write stories about different interesting people and things going on in her town. Her favorite story she has written was 'World Class: Wadsworth Welcomes Exchange Students' because she loved getting to meet new students and learn about different cultures. Outside of the newspaper, Emma is also a varsity cheerleader and a part of the high school lacrosse team.
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