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Final rounds for beloved Children's Ark therapy dog, Bonnie

The best friend of patients and staff at the Children’s Ark paediatric unit in University Hospital Limerick made her final rounds last Monday November 22nd, bidding a fond farewell to all before she steps down into a well-deserved retirement.

Bonnie the therapy dog has paid regular visits to the Ark for the past four years, playing with young inpatients and day patients, keeping them company during diagnostic tests and during their recovery from procedures, and brightening the day for all staff in the unit.

Last Monday, she met with baby Katie Liston from Newcastle West and young Sadie O’Malley from Castleconnell, Co Limerick, who helped make Bonnie’s last rounds a day to remember for the beloved Labrador, who received a ‘World’s Best Therapy Dog’ certificate to mark the occasion.

Senior Play Specialist at the Children’s Ark, Kristina Buckley, said Monday was an emotional occasion for all in the paediatric unit, patients and staff, who will greatly miss the 11-year-old Labrador’s regular visits.

“Bonnie was our first therapy dog, and we’re so grateful to her owner, Emma Hogan, who works here in University Hospital Limerick. Bonnie 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,” Kristina said.

Happily for the Children’s Ark, Bonnie’s sister Bella will be taking up duties in the New Year. Emma Hogan, Bonnie’s and Bella’s handler and owner—and secretary to UHL respiratory consultant, Dr Brian Casserly—is a lifelong animal lover who 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 being placed in a nursing home.

Determined to make a positive contribution to help people in similar circumstances, Emma registered Bonnie, and later Bella, with Irish Therapy Dogs, and formed an Irish Therapy Dogs Visiting Team with her canine pals. Her work came to the attention of Kristina Buckley in the Children’s Ark, and the rest is history.

Emma said: “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. Bonnie is great with 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.”

Although younger and of more diminutive stature than her big sister, Bella, a two-year-old miniature schnauzer, does not live in Bonnie’s shadow. She is the mother of five puppies who are now three months old. Bella also has her own Instagram page, where you can follow her adventures at https://www.instagram.com/bellabear_schnauzers/?hl=en

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