The Heavy Petting Issue: A therapy dog's calling

click to enlarge Certified therapy animal and 85-pound goldendoodle Ollie. - Paige Butterfield
Paige Butterfield
Certified therapy animal and 85-pound goldendoodle Ollie.


A cherub-faced girl in a hospital gown sinks into her recliner, an IV pole towering over her like a palm tree offering shade. She’s crying. Her parents look tired.

Creeeak. Ollie and his cotton-ball paws peek around the door. He’s smiling. Following, leash in hand, Bonnie Morgan smiles, too. The goldendoodle nestles his muzzle on the girl’s lap, and soon, Bonnierecalls, the patient’s tears dry.
“This is the first time I haven’t cried in three days,” the girl whispers in Ollie’s ear.

Ollie knows.

The goldendoodle is one of 20 therapy dogs who visit patients at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center regularly, but Ollie is more than that to the Morgan family — he’s a hero. When Bonnie’s daughters saw the 8-week-old fuzzball at a local breeder, they knew he was the one.

OK, not really.

The runt was one of the last left, and “he wasn’t very coordinated,” according to daughter Asha. “Even a little dorky.” But, his people-loving demeanor stole their hearts, daughter Miranda says.

At home, Bonnie sat at her husband’s bedside in hospice. He had liver and kidney disease, and wouldn’t live past the week. The girls had been researching hypoallergenic dogs, hoping one might lift Bonnie's spirits.

On Christmas Eve, Bonnie glimpsed the goldendoodle’s candy red bow through the doorway just before he paraded through.

“He’s yours,” her daughters cheered. There were tears, smiles and slobber, and the two were inseparable.

Ollie met Bonnie’s husband just before he passed in 2013, and not long after, Bonnie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Always by her side, Ollie was the Morgans’ emotional rock.

“He’s so intuitive to emotions,” Asha says. “If I was crying or sad, he could sense that.”

Two surgeries and 36 weeks of radiation later, most people would be concerned with their own health. Bonnie, however, wanted to volunteer. She says she needed to “fulfill her calling.”

She looked down at Ollie and saw a star therapy dog — just like the ones she’d seen at the hospitals. Asha looked at Ollie and saw a playful puppy.

“He’s very hyper, and he doesn’t know his size,” she says.

Bonnie saw past his puppy mannerisms, though. His adoration for people signified his “calling.” Now an 85-pound teddy bear behemoth, Ollie takes little notice of other pooches at the dog park, instead running straight for their owners.

Ollie became a certified volunteer visitation therapy animal through Project PUP, a nonprofit with about 400 volunteers. He shares his one-of-a-kind “pet me, please” technique at Moffitt, where the duo go room-to-room to see about 32 patients per session.

Bonnie and her sidekick will soon transfer to Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor, where Miranda works as a registered nurse.

Bonnie herself been cancer-free for three years, and says she’s feeling optimistic.

“For a long time to come, this is our calling,” she says.

Ollie knows.

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