Children's Hospital Get Visits From Furry Guests on Christmas Eve

10:13 PM, Dec 24, 2013   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- For parents who have children battling an illness this holiday season, the spirit of Christmas may have a different meaning.

That's especially true if you're in the hospital watching over a loved one.

At the Palmetto Richland Children's Hospital in Columbia, they had a couple of furry guests join them on Christmas Eve.

"It makes me happy," said Nellie Bennington, who was staying overnight at the hospital with her husband James while her daughter, Abigail, was recovering from a medical condition related to juvenile diabetes.

"I know she's getting better," Bennington said of her daughter, hoping they would be able to make it to their home in Aiken by Tuesday night.

During the holidays, pets can be as good as family, but many kids at the children's hospital are unable to go home for Christmas, so that part of home is being brought to them.

For the first time, dogs training to become service animals from the Palmetto Animals Assisted Life Services were at the hospital, celebrating with the family's getting gifts to give to their children from the "Child Life Holiday Market."

"I came down and got her gifts," Bennington said. "We let her open two so just in case we don't get to go home, she'll have something."

Each parent with a child staying at the hospital is given a value of tickets, good toward toys and other items to give as holiday presents.

"One of the people came down yesterday and gave us an invitation, and I thought it was something simple that they give to her," said Lolita Roberts, whose 16-year old daughter Amber was recovering from a surgery. 

"When I came down and saw the room with all these toys, it was beautiful," Roberts said.

Roberts had a cart full of gifts for her daughter after being forced to stay after what they thought would be a routine surgery.

"She wanted to really go home. She was saying 'take the IV out of me, I want to go home,' and 'I don't want to be here,'" Roberts said.

For Abigail and her parents, the animals meant a little extra after leaving their own two dogs at home to be at the hospital.

"Especially (that) tonight's Christmas eve," Bennington said. "We want to be home celebrating with our family."

Madi Pfaff and Madison King, students at Chapin High School, both help train the service dogs at PAALS by providing 'foster homes' for the dogs to stay at. 

Pfaff and King were responsible for the two dogs at the hospital Tuesday named Sammy and Akira, and said the reactions on people's faces were all the thanks they needed.

"They're in happiness," King said. "It's like being home again."

All gifts the children received from the hospital's market were from donations.

PAALS continues training service dogs throughout the year, and Jennifer Rogers, Executive Director at PAALS, said they would be offering training classes in January for anyone interested in learning how to offer a foster home for a dog.


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