Kansas City,
16:00 PM

Golden years: Hope the therapy dog to retire

Hope, the Golden Retriever who, along with her partner, Hunter, has provided comfort and companionship to Children’s Mercy patients for the last five-plus years, has announced her retirement, effective Feb. 5.

Hope and Hunter were the first canines in Children's Mercy’s Facility Dog Program, making bedside visits, generating smiles and even taking an occasional nap with kiddos.

Allison Bowring, Hope’s primary handler during her entire time at Children's Mercy, will be leaving the hospital to work with her husband in their family business. The decision was made for Hope to stay with Allison’s family rather than be assigned to a new handler because of the bonds formed.

“At age 7, I think Hopey has earned her retirement status and is looking forward to hanging out with her fur brother, Marlin, rollin’ around in the back yard and swimming in the lake,” Allison said.

Hope’s retirement is actually more of a “see you later” than “goodbye.” On-site therapy dog visits have been suspended for a time because of COVID precautions, but as soon as bedside visits are reinstated, Hope and Allison will be back.

“Hope and I are looking forward to becoming volunteers when bedside visits resume, so you’ll definitely be seeing us around,” Allison said.

Hope, who was born Dec. 12, 2013, began working at Children's Mercy in August 2015. She and Allison spent most of their time at Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas with patients and families in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, providing comfort and distraction during tests and lengthy stays.

Missy Stover, Assistant Director-Patient and Family Support Programs, said Children's Mercy will work to obtain a replacement facility dog for Hope, but the process will take time and approvals. Hope and Hunter were trained to become service dogs at Canine Assistants, Inc., a non-profit organization in Milton, Georgia. The Facility Dog Program is funded in part by generous philanthropic donors.

In the meantime, Hunter and his primary handler, Aimee Hoflander, will continue working at the Adele Hall Campus. They spend most of their time with patients and families in the Hematology and Oncology inpatient unit, providing encouragement and snuggles to patients during their treatment.

Hope and Hunter gained extensive local and national media coverage in 2017 when they were “married” at a “Woof Wedding” ceremony in the Lisa Barth Chapel, attended by a roomful of their patient friends.

“The Facility Dog Program aims to provide unique support to patients and families as they cope with illness and hospitalization,” Missy said. “These dogs have a way of offering unconditional love and acceptance that is quite different from anything we can provide as humans. Their motivating presence can reduce stress, promote socialization, encourage mobilization, provide distraction from pain and generally help patients feel better - emotionally and physically. Hope’s success and her ability to provide these interactions is because of her relationship with Allison. Their bond is magical. We are so grateful to Allison for all she has done over the years (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to make sure Hope is healthy and happy and ready for work.”