Miniature horse named Sprout aids hospital healing

Posted:   05/03/2012 04:00:00 PM MDT
May 4, 2012 9:32 PM GMTUpdated:   05/04/2012 03:32:02 PM MDT

By Cate Terwilliger
Special to The Denver


Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs delivers a dazzling array of high-tech medical care that spans the entirety of a human life, from neonatal intensive care through cardiothoracic and neurosurgery to end-stage cancer treatment.   

But one of the most potent weapons in its health-care arsenal is a decidedly low-tech healer who’s outfitted with nothing more than sneakers, a sunny disposition and the royal blue volunteer vest that bears his name:  Sprout.   Every other Wednesday, the miniature horse – he stands a scant 35 inches at the shoulder and weighs 250 pounds – wends his way through the hospital, where he evokes a spontaneous delight that briefly banishes the specter of sickness

Sprout is as popular with Memorial staff as with patients. The miniature therapy horse provides a brief but happy respite from the stress of hospital work. (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

and stress.

“Nobody would ever expect to see a horse in the hospital, and I think it makes people happy,” says Leigh Frasier, youth programs coordinator at Memorial.  “It’s amazing to see the happiness on people’s faces – and the surprise – when the elevator opens, and there’s a horse standing there.”

A horse in sneakers, no less. Made for teddy bears, the shoes are a novel solution to the hospital’s slippery linoleum floors, on which Sprout fell during an early visit.   The footwear – he has several sets of varying colors – provides traction as well as panache.

Sustained by apples, carrots, Cheerios and the occasional peppermint, the petite pinto typically spends 90 minutes to two hours at the hospital, visiting pediatrics, rehabilitation and outpatient oncology as well as poking his pert ears into patients’ rooms.  At the other end of his halter rope is veteran equestrian and owner Gretchen Long, who has known 14-year-old Sprout since he was 2.

“When we’re at the hospital, even though it’s for a short period of time, we touch so many people in one visit,” she says. “It’s not just about the patients;

Sprout’s sneakers, made for teddy bears, are more than a novelty: They provide traction on slippery hospital floors. (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

it’s about everybody who is just wandering through the hallways who stops and sees him.  A lot of times, it’s just a great distraction.”

One hallway encounter involved a Hispanic woman walking her mother to oncology in a wheelchair.   “I walked over to her,” Long recalls, “and Sprout, as soon as he zeroed in on her, put his head right into her lap.  She got very animated and started talking to me in Spanish about the horse, and then started telling me in English about having a horse as a child and growing up with horses.

“I didn’t think that much about it; it was just a nice visit.  But as we broke away from each other, her daughter thanked me profusely. She said

Sprout’s calm temperament and ability to tolerate strange noises and experiences — including riding on an elevator — make him uniquely suited to hospital work. (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

her mother had not been that animated or spoken that much in months.”

Sometimes Sprout’s impact is subtle; other times, dramatic.   Long especially remembers a special-request  visit with a boy who had a severe brain injury.  “They specifically asked me to visit him because he’d been in the hospital for several days and was pretty much unresponsive – in a wheelchair, kind of strapped in,” she says. “He couldn’t sit up by himself.  … I later found out that he was in foster care and had been beaten.

“We brought him down to Sprout and you could see the reaction in his eyes right away. And then he reached out and grabbed Sprout’s mane, which was huge because

Wearing matching sneakers, Sprout and owner Gretchen Long begin their volunteer shift at Memorial Health System. (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

he hadn’t shown any motor skills at all. “

That night, the boy started speaking, and when Long returned the following week with her therapy dog, he was sitting up on his own and talking.  Within a few weeks, he was discharged.

Frasier, who accompanies Long and Sprout on their rounds, has her own stories.  She recalls a hallway encounter with a woman and her daughter, who had severe cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair.   “Without saying a word or leading him up, Sprout walked up to her, and he smelt her and just put his head on her shoulder,” Frasier says. “And he stayed there for a couple of minutes. She was very excited in the beginning, and then she just calmed; this

Sprout dozes after one of his biweekly hospital visits. “I think he enjoys it, but I don’t want him to burn out,”says owner Gretchen Long. “There’s a lot of stimulation.” (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

calm came over both of them. And I looked at Gretchen and said, ‘That’s what this is all about.’”

Both women say Spout has the sensitivity of a natural healer, and that he seeks out certain people.   “It’s not always a patient,” Long says.  “A lot of times it’s somebody in the hallway, or someone who’s waiting for a loved one in surgery.  I try to just let him do that.  A couple of times [he has sought out] people lying in bed, too. That must look strange; a horse wouldn’t normally see somebody lying horizontally. But he walks right up to people in bed, like he knows.”

Sprout and Long made their first visit to Memorial in October 2010.  He’s one of 51 miniature horses nationwide registered by Pet Partners, a Washington-based nonprofit that trains volunteers and their animals to provide pet therapy in a variety of settings.  While dogs are common in pet-therapy programs like Memorial’s, the hospital environment is particularly challenging to the temperament of horses.  That helps explain why Sprout is the only one of four miniature therapy horses in Colorado working in a hospital, though Long hopes to soon register another, 2-year-old Petey.  

“Horses by nature are spooky animals, but miniatures just seem to tolerate everything much more,” Long says.  “Sprout is amazing – the way he goes on the elevator, into people’s rooms, the way he spins around in little tiny areas.  He doesn’t get claustrophobic the way a normal horse would; he doesn’t react to things moving on the side of him like a normal horse would.

“Most horses would get pretty squirrelly if you had a whole group of kids run up and surround them, but Sprout just stands there, like ‘No big deal.’”

Hygiene is another concern. While therapy horses in other settings can typically get by with a  “bum bag”  for manure, the associated bacteria just aren’t acceptable in a sanitized hospital setting, Frasier said.  That hasn’t been a problem for Sprout, who lived for a time in the backyard of a woman who allowed him access to her home; Long says the experience helped him learn the difference between inside and out.  And if nature calls in the middle of a hospital visit, Sprout lets Long know by pawing the floor; then, it’s out to the playground for a short break, followed by another hour or so of spreading horse happiness.

“It’s such a great little job for him, and I think he enjoys it,” Long says. “But it is stressful; there’s a lot of stimulation. So an hour and a half or two hours – that’s plenty.”

It’s plenty in another way for Long,  who often doesn’t fully appreciate the emotional impact of their visits until Sprout is back at the barn.  

“I always walk away  – sometimes it’s not immediate, but a day or two afterward – and that’s when it really hits me:  I think about the reaction of somebody, or who he touched,”  she says. “And I always feel that both he and I get a lot out of it.”

Former Denver Post staff writer Cate Terwilliger teaches multimedia journalism at Northern Michigan University in the Upper Peninsula.

Copyright 2012 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.

Sprout (center) gives owner Gretchen Long a little loving. Long hopes her 2-year-old, Petey (right), will follow in Sprout’s hoofprints as a miniature therapy horse. (Cate Terwilliger | Special to The Denver Post)

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Attorney for Captain Paul Watson Confirms Sea Shepherd’s Beliefs: Japan is Seeking to Extradite Watson

Captain Paul WatsonThe Japanese Government is again stopping at nothing in their quest to bring an end to Captain Paul Watson’s efforts to cease their illegal whaling activities. German Counsel for Watson, who departed Germany after being held for 70 days for extradition to Costa Rica, has confirmed the Japanese Embassy submitted a request to the German Foreign Office to extradite Watson to Japan.

Germany had been proceeding with Watson’s extradition to Costa Rica. Sea Shepherd has had concerns that Watson’s life would be in danger or he would be extradited to Japan. Today, Sea Shepherd’s suspicions were confirmed by Watson’s attorney.

“I received confirmation today from Germany’s General Public Prosecutor that Japan filed an extradition request against Paul Watson on July 19th,” said Oliver Wallasch, lead German Counsel for Captain Paul Watson.

“Germany was proceeding with…

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Hundebabys zur Adoption freigegebenHundebabys zur Adoption freigegeben


Tierschutzaktivisten in Italien suchen Besitzer für 2.500 Beagles, die für Tierversuche aufgezogen und vergangene Woche aus einem Hundezuchtzentrum in der Lombardei gerettet wurden. Das Zentrum Green Hill in Montichiari bei Brescia wurde geschlossen, nachdem die Behörden Tierquälereien festgestellt hatten. Das Zentrum unter Kontrolle des US-Konzerns Marshall lieferte Beagles in ganz Europa aus.

Die Hunde dieser Rasse gelten in der Pharmaindustrie wegen ihres gutmütigen Charakters als besonders geeignet für Versuche. Vorübergehend wurden die Tiere nun den Tierschützern der Region Lombardei anvertraut. Mit Hilfe des Umweltschutzverbands Legambiente werden jetzt Familien für die Vierbeiner gesucht. “Viele Hunde haben wegen ihrer schwierigen Lebensbedingungen Verhaltensprobleme. Wir hoffen aber, dass wir für alle ein neues Zuhause finden”, sagte ein Sprecher von Legambiente.

Seit Monaten forderten Tierschützer aus ganz Europa die Schließung des Zuchtzentrums, vor dem zuletzt immer wieder Demonstrationen…

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Something sinister going on in the city of Houston…

Serial Killers Hunting Abandoned Pets

  • July 24, 2012
  • 11:20 pm

There’s something sinister going on in the city of Houston, a crime even more deplorable than the widespread abandonment we have all come to know and dread. It seems that someone, or more likely, a group of people, have been targeting and torturing abandoned animals in a macabre game of cat and mouse.

“After hearing about a horrible puppy massacre on the banks of the San Jacinto river near Houston, I went to investigate,” explains volunteer Rhonda Heffernan. “Upon arriving I found the bodies of five tortured terrier/ chihuahaua mix puppies. Other terrified dogs were hiding in the woods.”

Though the local media is beginning to take an interest in what’s going on here, no one culprit has been identified. And worse yet, it’s suspected that there may be several.

“We have found dogs decapitated, hit by cars, shot with pellet guns and regular guns, dismembered and we have eye witness reports of people running dogs over with 4-wheelers,” Rhonda says with absolute heartbreak. “With the help of a few dedicated volunteers, we have rescued 45 dogs from the two dump sites, but official help is still needed.”


Hank was rescued earlier this month.


Here’s Theo while still hiding in the woods at the dump site. He is now safe.


Yet another pair who were terrified. They were caught in traps and now safely adopted.



A pair of abandoned dogs trapped earlier this month.


The dogs dumped here are absolutely beautiful.


Some of the latest dumped dogs. Two were rescued and the others will be trapped within days we hope, as soon as funds are raised for their care.

The goals of this volunteer group are to:

  • stop the abandonment with the help of law enforcment and public awareness campaigns
  • rescue any other unfortunate souls, both dogs and cats, that end up at these dump areas
  • establish an educational effort in the area

Facebook group here) has placed a billboard near the dumping area and have also had a spay/neuter day with the help of SNAP Houston. Today they need financial help and are eager to accept any animal rescue/advocacy group support from elsewhere in the country.

They’ve turned to the Harmony Fund for help in raising funds to cover the costs of several recently abandoned dogs. Veterinary care is usually quite substantial and includes treatment for an array of injuries as well as common afflictions such as heartworm and mange. Tax deductible donations will go directly to the cost of additional rescues, veterinary care and educational campaigns to put a stop to these crimes. 

Read more:


FDA Allows Pet Deaths to Mount While Awaiting Scientific Certainty, Certainty That has Eluded Them Since 2008 | Common Dreams.

July 23, 2012
12:08 PM

FDA Allows Pet Deaths to Mount While Awaiting Scientific Certainty, Certainty That has Eluded Them Since 2008

WASHINGTON – July 23 – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today released the following statement criticizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for failing to adequately protect domestic pets.

“After a weeks-long investigative trip to China and thousands of reports of sick and dying dogs, the FDA still has no answers and offers pet owners no protection,” said Kucinich.

Constituents reported illnesses in their pets after feeding them chicken jerky snacks, including ‘Waggin’ Train.’ Kucinich then wrote to the FDA demanding strong action and a briefing on their investigation. The FDA, which had known about problems with the…

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Dear Visitors of my Blog(s),

in spite of I dared to install a donation-bottom – I don´t get any donation –

not at all my blogs. It´s o.k.

But in this case here I ask You, no, I urge You, to make a donation.

Luree and her friends are living for the animals they care for.

I am so sure that You´ll help that I even say: THANK YOU!

Today she wrote an e-mail:

#yiv374989239 v0003a* {}

Hi Annamaria (my name)

I am going to walk 5 Kilometers for our small no-kill SPCA.
Please spare a few dollars for the homeless critters in Cowichan Valley. 
Every dollar raised stays right here and it’s tax deductible. 
Just use your credit card and click on the link below.
Please help me raise funds for the SPCA with our Annual Paws For A Cause Walk


By Renata  /   July 22, 2012  /   No Comments

 Cops shot non-lethal rounds toward men, women and children and unleashed a dog who charged toward a stroller during a clash with mostly Latino residents in Anaheim following an officer-involved shooting there.

The confrontation happened on Saturday 21st July in the 600 block of N. Anna Drive.

Video captured by a KCAL-TV crew shows a chaotic scene in which officers fired beanbag rounds as some people ducked to the ground while others scattered screaming. A man is seen yelling at an officer even as a weapon is pointed at him; two adults huddled to shield a boy and girl. Meanwhile, a police dog ran into several people sitting on the grass, including a woman and child in a stroller, before biting a man in the arm.

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