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Pit Bull Makes a Pawsitive Difference

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A medical practitioner of sorts makes the rounds at Shriners Hospitals for Children® - Salt Lake City every two weeks. Although she’s never been to medical school - this particular care provider is well versed in the art of healing. She has no need for medical charts, prescriptions or even words - instead she relies on therapeutic forms of touch and play to share an unmistakable message of comfort, hope and acceptance.

Piggy is a certified therapy dog. The Pit Bull Boxer mix is a lot like the children she visits at that hospital in that she defies expectations.     

“Miss Piggy has a wheelchair just like you,” Jessica Dunn’s mother Pam says as Piggy introduces herself to the pair.     

Piggy understands all too well the rigors and stress involved in medical care.  The Pit Bull has spent more than her fair share of time in emergency rooms, clinics and physical therapy.

Piggy’s spinal cord was severed nearly 90 percent when she was hit by a car three years ago.  The driver never stopped and fortunately Piggy didn’t let her injury stop her either.

Piggy’s prognosis was grim in the days after the hit and run.  She had no reflexes and she quickly lost all of her muscle tone.  Although it appeared she would need to be put down her owner and handler April Hollingsworth says she never gave up hope, “Everybody thought I was nuts.  I didn’t care if she couldn’t walk.  I just wanted her to be happy.”

Within days, the first signs of Piggy’s resilience became apparent. Although it was clear her life would never be the same, the Pit Bull Boxer mix was determined to have a future.  Piggy began rehabilitation.   Therapists outfitted her with a doggy wheelchair which enabled her to drag her hind legs.  Soon, Piggy was bounding around the neighborhood.  That’s where April and Piggy met a man who had lost both his legs due to a climbing accident.   When April saw the impact Piggy had on the amputee, she realized Piggy had a calling, “I feel like she is a gift I have to give.”

Shriners Hospitals for Children® - Salt Lake City seemed like the logical place to share Piggy’s gift.   The pediatric orthopaedic specialty hospital provides life changing surgery and care to children with bone, muscle and joint conditions – all without financial obligation to patients or their families.

“She likes coming here.  She runs right to the elevator,” April explains.  “All she has to do is give her little smile and she gets tons of attention.”

 Piggy’s visits are short.   She allows just enough time for a child to throw her a ball, scratch underneath her chin or feed her a treat.  Piggy’s rounds include 20 patient rooms.   She found Jared Kinard waiting for her in one of those rooms.   The young boy from Fort Collins, Colorado has cerebral palsy.   Although he was tired and in need of a nap, Jared says he willed himself to stay awake until Piggy arrived, “I just love dogs.  I haven’t seen anything like her before. She is so sweet and gentle.”

 Jared’s mother Susan leans down to coo words of thanks in Piggy’s ears, “What a good dog to come and see these kids who are going through the same thing.”

 Jarod instantly empathized with Piggy.  He’s unable to feel his left leg and like Piggy he uses a wheelchair to get around.  For a moment though, he’s not thinking about his own medical condition.  Instead, he experiences a sense of control as he lavishes affection on Piggy.

Recreation Therapist Laura Lewis says therapy dogs make the hospital feel less frightening, “I’ve witnessed moments where a child hasn’t talked to anyone else but the second the dog comes into the room they will just sit down and tell the dog what scares them.”

Piggy can be relied upon to nuzzle a baby’s nose or lick a treat out of a child’s hands.        She received her certification through Intermountain Therapy Animals.   Like all volunteer dogs, Piggy’s skills, temperament and manners were tested.  She defies the stereotype of the ferocious Pit Bull, preferring instead to prove a disability doesn’t have to slow you down.  Piggy’s good deeds, gentle demeanor and warm smile are proof Pit Bulls can also make good role models.