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12 WHO CARE: Animal therapy helps patients leave with a smile

Visiting a doctor or clinic can be a scary experience, but this "12 Who Care" recipient is making sure children feel comforted with help from a special friend.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The sound of hooves on tile isn’t one often heard in a medical facility, which is why Gypsy is always drawing a crowd.

"For a lot of children this is the first time they are seeing a horse, much less seeing a horse inside a children’s clinic," tells Jenny Pfieffer, a pediatric clinical nurse specialist.

While mini horse, Gypsy, may be the star of these visits at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care... she’s not the true hero of this story.

To get Gypsy into Nemours, it took years of work, dedication and an unrelenting passion. That was thanks to Pfieffer, the woman standing right by Gypsy's side.

"She influences all of us in such a positive way and she helps us rise to a different level," explains Laura Goldstein, the Director of Nursing at Nemours Children's Specialty Care. 

Pfieffer wanted to see patients and their families leave Nemours with a smile. She has always loved animals, all animals really, but mini horses and dogs especially. One look around her office and you’ll see that, but she also has a heart for children and making hospital visits a little less scary.

While Pfieffer does work for Nemours, this program with Gypsy is all done during her lunch hour or after her work is done as volunteer time. In fact, to get Gypsy ready on these volunteer days, there's a 4 a.m. wake up call with a series of baths and brushing to make sure all infection protocol is followed. Then her husband takes time off from work to transport Gypsy.

It’s a lot of work but for parents like Jessica Ladd, having people like Pfieffer is just as important as doctors and nurses.

"We know that her [daughter, Casey] protocol is going to be followed and her correct medicine will be administered, but to have someone who is worried about how she is feeling and is she going to be scared, that is huge," Ladd says.

Sometimes it isn’t just the patients that need a moment with Gypsy.

"Some of our staff members may come down and they are having a rough day and they are like 'I don’t want to talk, I just need Gypsy right now' and you can see the stress melt away," Pfieffer says.

That makes all the early mornings and extra hours worth it for Jenny. Seeing the difference that animal therapy is making in the lives of patients and staff.

"I have always connected to people with horses and with nursing, so I wanted to be a nurse because I love caring and helping with people and just because it could be 5 o’clock doesn’t mean it has to stop," Pfieffer says. "Just the power of people and animals together – you can’t go wrong." 

In addition to Nemours, Pfieffer and Gypsy also go to elementary schools and nursing homes on the weekends to talk about animal-assisted therapy in hopes that others will be inspired to continue growing the program.