Pet Therapy Making a Difference to Children’s Lives | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

Pet Therapy Making a Difference to Children’s Lives

Philippa Mentor ,

Mia, the therapy dog, is only new to her role, yet she has assisted many in the Whangārei Hospital's children's ward on their pathway to health. 

Mia started visiting ward two last year, passing her therapy dog training assessment in October with flying colours, taking over from her older brother Kambi, who is now retired. 

Owner Hannelise Le Lagadec says her daughter kicked this initiative off for the family. 

"My daughter was visiting the children's ward when she was at Pompallier College to take the children Easter eggs, and she asked if Kambi could come along dressed as the Easter Bunny," she laughs. 

Two-year-old Mia is a gentle soul who loves kids and believes all humans are good. She can be afraid when strange things happen, and then she wants to be by her Mum. Like the first time, the helicopter landed on the hospital roof when she was in the playroom. 

"Children often comment on how she looks like a teddy bear, they love touching her fur," says Hannelise. 

Hannelise takes time off work for the visits. She also spends their weekends meeting children when walking or shopping. 

"We take each opportunity to interact and teach children how to approach and chat to a dog," she says. 

There is an official therapy pet assessment that each dog must pass to become a therapy dog. 

"The Aroha of an animal can reduce stress and put a smile on everyone's face. They comfort people who are sick or lonely or even children with learning needs. Sometimes it can even help with physical pain," says St John, who provides the training. 

Two visits that stand out in Hannelise's mind were when a young boy was discharged as Kambi arrived. The boy was so excited to play with the dog that he would not go home from the hospital until Kambi left. 

Another was when the parents of a child who was badly bitten by a dog wanted their child not to live in fear. 

"Kambi and I went to visit this child in the hospital. The change from being so frightened to being able to cuddle a dog will always be in my heart," she fondly recalls. 

"My favourite part is seeing children fall in love with Mia and the joy she brings to their day," she smiles. 

Their popular programme brings loving pets to healthcare facilities and classrooms around the country. 

(Update: Mia has recently had a short break from her duties, giving birth to eight pups over Christmas, the new family are doing well, and she is a great Mum)

Mia spending time with Phoebe in the playroom last year 

Mai with a toy

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