Mini horse rides to the rescue for these patients

Virginia Abdalla's face lit up the moment he trotted into her hospital room at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.

She kissed his long nose and stroked the brown mane on top of his head.

"He's so precious," she said.

The subject of her affection was Diesel, a 3 ½-year-old miniature horse who is the latest addition to Harrison's animal-assisted therapy program. Each week, he visits patients at the Silverdale and Bremerton branches, bringing some joy to counteract the often-stressful hospital environment.

While not a typical hospital visitor, Diesel is no stranger to crowds, and owner Eileen Watland jokes that visiting patients is a break for the him.

Diesel promptly planted his head in Abdalla's lap, soaking in the attention.

"I have an apple. Can he eat an apple?" Abdalla asked.

"Not in the hospital," Watland laughed.

The animal-assisted therapy program started in 2008 at Harrison, according to integrative health practitioner and program director Edith Enns. The integrative health department offers patients a wide range of options, including musical, aroma and animal therapies — the latter typically being the realm of dogs. Diesel is the first non-dog in the program.

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