Miniature horse joins therapy dogs and cats comforting patients

kcameron@sacbee.comJuly 8, 2014 

Hope couldn’t make it past the front doors of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento without causing a commotion.

It was the first day of work Tuesday for the miniature horse. She’s the latest and most novel addition to Paws on Call, a volunteer group of therapy animals and their owners who visit patients in Sutter hospitals. Until now, the organization consisted of 30 dogs and one cat.

Dozens of patients, visitors, nurses and physicians filled the neuroscience floor hallways on Tuesday to welcome Hope.

The 3-year-old brown and white mini-horse is the height of a Labrador retriever. She wears bows in her braided mane, booties to shield her slippery hooves and a green vest adorned with the embroidered words “Sutter’s Hooves on-Call.”

Hope had a couple of trial runs through the hospital in June so she could settle into her environment, said Gary Zavoral, spokesman for the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region.

Hope’s owner, Lisa Schaeffer of Elk Grove, trained the mini-horse for a year before she joined Sutter’s Paws on Call, Schaeffer said. Hope was trained to be house-broken, conquered her fear of elevators, perfected walking with a harness, learned how to handle socializing and mastered the art of the camera-ready pose.

During her training, Hope met her first patient, Samantha Leigon, 19, of Auburn, who was hospitalized for back surgery in early June.

Leigon saw Hope in the hallway when she was switching rooms, she said. As she stopped in the middle of the hall, a crowd surrounded her and the horse to take pictures and pet the mini-horse.

“When they were pushing me out and I saw her, the pain kind of just dissipated and went away,” Leigon said. “She puts people at ease.”

Call The Bee’s Katrina Cameron at (916) 321-1231. Follow her on Twitter @katcameron91.

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