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Creature Comfort

August 11, 2023

Mini pony makes therapy visit to former owner at High Pointe House.

Jewel the pony visiting Hight Pointe House

For more than a decade, Dianne Thomes of Dracut accompanied her mini pony, 27-inch tall Jewel, to over 25 pet therapy visits at nursing facilities throughout Greater Lowell. On July 7, it was Jewel's turn to comfort Dianne at High Pointe House in Haverhill, the hospice and palliative care residence of Tufts Medicine Care at Home.

Sadly, it would prove to be Dianne's last time with 16-year-old Jewel, whom she adopted at just 4 months old. Dianne passed away following a lengthy illness at High Pointe House on July 11.

"Dianne was in tough shape, so it was wonderful to see the nice smile on her face," said Fred Thomes, Dianne's husband. "It was a good experience. Really good."

Dianne owned six other mini ponies throughout her lifetime, but Jewel was special. Recognizing her even temperament and other gifts, Dianne had Jewel certified at Dog Talk LLC, a pet therapy training center and wellness sanctuary for companion animals and their humans in Pelham, N.H.

Yet Dianne admitted that Jewel's pet therapy visits were a "service of love," since any nominal compensation didn't come close to covering travel and other expenses.

"It was worth it to see how much Jewel and the nursing home residents all enjoyed the visits," Dianne said as Jewel gently lowered her head to the bedside for a nuzzle.

Jewel was accompanied to High Pointe House by Michelle Lemay and her 7-year-old daughter, Sydney. The Lemay family took over caring for Jewel and another mini pony, Lacy, at their farm in Derry, N.H. when it became too much for Dianne four years ago. Lacy died at age 25 in 2021.

"Jewel whinnies like a horse, but much softer. Also, she loves carrots," advised Sydney. While Jewel – who wears a horse diaper attached to her harness during therapy visits – doesn't typically come inside the house, she did so once to guest-star in Sydney's Zoom school show-and-tell.

Even though Jewel hadn't gone on a therapy visit in years, Michelle said she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly she adapted.

"At home, Jewel can be cranky and bossy, so it was neat to see her in her element. She was so calm and lovely with everyone; you could tell she really enjoyed it," said Michelle, becoming emotional as she recounted how Dianne encouraged her and Sydney to "take Jewel on as many visits as you like."

"It was such a special and full-circle moment, knowing how much joy Dianne and Jewel had brought to people in a similar situation all those years," Michelle added. "Being able to do this for Dianne was pretty spectacular, that's for sure."

According to clinical social worker Danica Grillo, LCSW, ACHP-SW, it was the first but hopefully not last pet therapy visit by a mini pony at High Pointe House.

"Jewel enjoyed stepping back into her pet therapy 'horseshoes' so much that she visited other patients that day as well," said Danica, noting that therapy animals as well as patients' pets are welcome at High Pointe House. "It's always inspiring to witness the emotional support and range of therapeutic benefits that pets and therapy animals provide to patients. After all, there is no better example of unconditional love."

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