Willie Nelson, a miniature horse, made his first visit to the Akron Children’s Hospital this past week. His job was to provide comfort to and lift the spirits of the children in the hospital.
He has big horseshoes to fill, considering his predecessor was a much-beloved miniature horse named Petie. Petie was a nationally recognized therapy animal with features in Animal Planet (Miracle Pets), People magazine (September 27, 2004), National Geographic for Kids (May 2005), Reader's Digest (January 2007), Time for Kids (April 2006) and numerous newspaper articles.
After spending 20 years as a therapy animal lifting the spirits of his patients, Petie passed away in 2017. His caretakers at Victory Gallop worked tirelessly to find a miniature horse that could carry the torch and take up his work. That’s when they found Willie Nelson.
Victory Gallop says, “Willie came to us from Divide, Colorado, in October 2017. His video on the internet was just too cute to pass up. We do not know a lot about his past, but his big brown eyes and adorable face made us fall in love.”
He went through a rigorous training and desensitization process to make sure he was up to the challenge and on May 1, that training was put to the test.
Prior to arriving to the hospital, he had to undergo the same thorough cleaning process as Petie, which Victory Gallop details, “His coat is kept clipped to help keep him clean. After his bath, each hoof is scrubbed, dried and then wrapped in order to keep his feet clean. His tail is then sprayed with a conditioner and it, too, is wrapped for the ride to the hospital. Once outside the hospital, each hoof is unwrapped and wiped out. His tail is unwrapped and a towel is used to rub down his whole body. The last steps are to clean his eyes and nose area, and finally, he receives a spritz of Listerine to help eliminate any bacteria.”
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that while at the hospital, Willie Nelson demonstrated that he was up to the task. He bravely rode in elevators, entered small hospital rooms and greeted a variety of patients while keeping a calm demeanor. Each patient was provided with a stuffed pony, and Willie Nelson was rewarded with lots of pets for being such a comforting presence.
Victory Gallop co-director Sue Miller tells Akron Beacon Journal, “He was awesome. He did a really good job. I’m very pleased.” So now that Willie Nelson has proved he is ready, he will make weekly visits to Akron Children’s Hospital and then expand out to visit Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.
Image via Facebook: Victory Gallop
Video Courtesy of Youtube: Akron Beacon Journal