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Little Dog, Super Spirit

When Super Lance wiggles and trots his way down hospital halls, nearly everyone takes a minute to smile.

Shy children break into grins, nurses begin to giggle and even doctors stop to chat when they see the little dachshund pulling himself along with a special red wheeled cart. His nose quivering as he enters each room at the Sanford Children’s Hospital, this canine visitor is used to being a “celebrity therapy dog,”his owner says.

“He knows the second that we pull into garage at the hospital that its time to go,” says Caio Stinchi, the dog owner who brings the little pup with a big heart to visit children in hospitals and schools near their home in Miami. “He thrives on this.”

King of the castle

Sanford Health invited Super Lance to serve as the official mascot of the 2011 Spinal Cord Injury Symposium, an educational event hosted by Sanford Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As part of his visit to Sioux Falls, the gentle dachshund visited children in Sioux Falls hospitals and schools.

“Sanford invited Super Lance to be the king of the castle today and he loves it,” says Stinchi, stopping by the throne room at Sanford Children’s Hospital. Young patients quickly surround the dog, petting him and asking questions about the pup and his wheelchair that includes a tiny license plate that says, “Super Lance.”

Super Lance was only four years old when a ruptured disc pressing on his spinal cord left his back legs paralyzed, a common problem for the dachshund breed. While many pet owners would opt to put the animal to sleep, the Stinchi family couldn’t imagine life without their pup.

A new life

Instead, they got their playful little dog his own wheelchair, a custom made aluminum framed chariot that allowed him to run around the park, playing and chasing balls. After a few months, when someone suggested that Super Lance would make a good therapy dog, the family decided to give him a new “job.”

“From the start, it was clear it was his calling,” Stinchi says, rubbing the dog’s floppy ears. “We did it at first to give us something good to think about, but it became so much more.”

Super Lance was a natural, excelling at his training to become a certified therapy dog. Although at home he was happy to play, zipping around in his little cart, he seemed to have no problem understanding that in the hospital rooms and corridors he needed to move slowly and never bark.

Lifting spirits

In a room at Sanford Children’s Hospital, three year-old Olivia Haugen halts her tea party with tiny medicine cups full of water to stroke Super Lance’s ears. At first she stands a foot or two away, gradually inching closer and closer to give him a little tickle.

“I like him!” the little girl says with a smile.

Down the hall, 14-year-old Samantha Jennings is in her room with her parents and sister, looking for something to distract her for a few minutes. In a few hours the Hartford girl will be undergoing surgery for a heart condition that was discovered this summer while she was playing softball.

As Super Lance is lifted, doggie wheelchair and all, to her hospital bed he lays his small head on her leg, looking into her face with huge brown eyes. The worry on the teen’s face disappears as she snuggles with the little dachshund.

“I can’t believe that he can walk around like that,” coos the teen, who has three dogs at home. “He’s so cute,”

“This is the best therapy yet,” says her mother, snapping a photo.

Super Lance continues walking through Sanford Children’s, spreading smiles from room to room as he goes. His little front legs pull him along, his head bobbing from side to side as his wheelchair rolls down the hallway.

“How can Super Lance complain?” Stinchi says as he bids a warm goodbye to another patient. “He’s been petted the whole day.”

The message that the dog’s family wants to send to both children and adults is one of hope, his owner says, as they make their way around the rooms. The plucky little dog has not only survived after being paralyzed, but made a new life for himself by giving to others.

No matter how long your day in the hospital may be, you can’t help but smile when you see Super Lance, Stinchi says.

“If we can bring one smile to a person who needs it, it’s all worth it,” the dog owner says. “He may be small, but he has enough spirit for all of us.”

Posted Date: December 2011