Therapy dog who delivered Christmas joy to young patients at Limerick hospital retires

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by David Raleigh

A “world’s best” therapy dog who has delivered Christmas cheer to young patients at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) for the past few years has retired.

Beloved Bonnie, an 11-year-old Labrador whose weekly visits to the hospital’s paediatric Ark unit have been barking brilliant, will be replaced in the New Year by her sister Bella, a two-year-old miniature schnauzer who has her own social media channel.

Bonnie bid patients a fond farewell on her last rounds on the ward after four years of delivering joy and keeping the children company during their diagnostic tests and recovery from procedures. She received a ‘World’s Best Therapy Dog’ certificate to mark the occasion.

Kristina Buckley, Senior Play Specialist at the Children’s Ark, said it was an emotional occasion for all the patients and staff in the paediatric unit: “Bonnie was our first therapy dog, and she has made such a huge difference to the children, cheering them up through her friendly presence, and assisting in calming children who are anxious about being in hospital. She’s an amazing dog, and we hope she has a long and happy retirement.”

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The dogs’ owner and handler Emma Hogan, who is a member of staff at UHL and a lifelong animal lover, said she became interested in the work of Irish Therapy Dogs after she’d witnessed the heartbreak of a relative who was separated from their companion pet after they were placed in a nursing home.

Determined to make a positive contribution to help people in similar circumstances, Emma registered Bonnie and Bella with Irish Therapy Dogs, and started introducing the ‘pawfect’ pair to children on the Ark ward.

“Irish Therapy Dogs is an amazing organisation, and it was the perfect fit for me, because I’ve always been fascinated by what dogs can achieve through the connections that they are able to make with humans, especially children who have learning disabilities and autism, for example, you can really see from their responses to Bonnie the positive contribution that assistance dogs can make in a busy hospital environment.”

“It’s been a privilege bringing Bonnie here over the past four years, and we’ll be able to continue as the Irish Therapy Dogs Visiting Team for the Children’s Ark with Bella, and continue Bonnie’s great work.”