In the Loop

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January 10, 2019

Piper, the Therapy Dog With Three Legs and a Nose for Healing

By In the Loop

Polly Spenle had been researching what it would take for her pup Piper to become a therapy dog when a car accident left Piper injured. But even an amputation couldn't keep Piper from her purpose.


From the moment young Piper came into her life, Polly Spenle knew there was something special about her new pup. "Right from the start, I knew she was different than other dogs," Polly tells us. Different, that is, in a way that led Polly to believe that Piper had potential to not only make a lasting impression on her life, but on the lives of others as well. "I started researching what it would take to train her as a therapy dog because that was something that had always interested me," says Polly, an Emergency Department nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

Then a freak car accident threatened to take it all away. "We were T-boned," Polly tells us. "Piper went airborne and shattered one of her back legs. She also suffered partially collapsed lungs. I had a few minor injuries myself, but nothing compared to Piper." Discouraged, but thankful they were still alive, Polly focused her time and energy on Piper. "After talking with her vet, we decided it was best to amputate Piper's leg rather than try to surgically repair it due to the long, difficult recovery process," Polly says.

Piper hasn't let that slow her down, however. Nor did she let it squash the dream of becoming a working pet therapy team at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. "Piper's a very resilient dog," Polly says. "Immediately after her amputation, her vet team was trying to teach her how to walk with the aid of a sling, and she refused to use the sling. Two weeks later, she was back to swimming."

A mere two months after that amputation, Polly became certified as a therapy dog through Pet Partners, Mayo Clinic Health System's preferred animal therapy program. "She's been a volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire ever since," Polly says. "She actually just logged her 188th hour of service."

And to no great surprise, patients have loved every one of those 188 hours. "We've had some amazing interactions with patients," Polly says. Like the one they had recently with a patient who'd been unresponsive to his care team and family members. All of that changed when Piper jumped up on the patient's bed and "snuggled up" next to him with the permission of family members. "As soon as she did that, he opened his eyes, reached to pet her, and tried talking to her," Polly says. "It was incredible."

As was the interaction Piper had with a patient who was nervous about his own impending amputation. "He reached down, patted Piper on the head and said, 'I guess I can't feel too sorry for myself now can I, girl?'" Polly tells us.

Polly tells us Piper also has some fans among her colleagues at Mayo Clinic Health System. "One of Piper's favorite stops is the staff in Trauma Services because she knows they keep treats for her," Polly says. "She has a lot of other staff member friends throughout the hospital who spoil her as well. Sometimes it is staff who need to see Piper the most because we can all have rough days working in this field."

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Tags: Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Polly Spenle, Practice story, Therapy Dogs

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