Therapy horse can't go to hospitals, but it brings smiles at Dallastown vaccine site

Harper Ho
York Dispatch
Dallastown Medical Associates staff and a child meet Dominique outside of the medical center's building. April 6, 2021

A Chanceford Township woman is hoping she'll be able to visit children's hospitals soon with her mini horse — and she brought the animal sidekick to a COVID-19 vaccination appointment to encourage everyone to get inoculated.

Folks who were getting their COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday at a Dallastown medical center were treated to a sweet surprise when Sandy C. Smith took Dominique — a 33-inch-tall, 6-year-old Appaloosa miniature male therapy horse —  along to get her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 shot. 

"I don't think anybody can look at him, including you, without smiling," Smith said. "And that's what it's about. It's about bringing love and smiles to people and put them in a better place, whether they only have a few tomorrows left or they have a lot."

Patients and staff at Dallastown Medical Associates, 1010 Blymire Road, welcomed the special visitor, petting and posing for photos with the horse in front of the building — where a vaccination site had been set up for people to get their shots outside.

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Months before COVID-19 hit, Smith had Dominique trained and certified for therapy visits at children's hospitals and senior centers. She then founded a nonprofit, Dominique's Smile, with the mission of bringing "smiles and love" to sick and dying children and seniors.

However, "COVID went right in," Smith said, and stopped the nonprofit from even launching. Dominique hasn't been able to visit a single children's hospital since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

Sandy C. Smith brought Dominique, an Appaloosa miniature therapy horse, along with her to a vaccination appointment in Dallastown. April 6, 2021

"It's very frustrating because, you know, especially during this time, people — they need attention. They need to see something. They need this," Smith said. "I could at least suit up and walk down the hallways — stop at the doors and say hi to the kids and the adults in there." 

Smith feels defeated that she couldn't get Dominique inside hospitals at all to serve people at a time when they "really need smiles and love the most," she said. “There’s nothing wrong with a dog, but a horse is magical.” 

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Dominique instead has been visiting some nursing homes and private residences, including at Manor Care in Dallastown and the Park City Center mall in Lancaster County.

Smith had lamented the situation to Dr. Rocco R. Arcieri, with Dallastown Medical Associates, during a visit about a month ago, when she got her first shot. He suggested that Smith bring Dominique along when she got her second shot, and Smith agreed.

Sandy C. Smith receiving her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 shot, accompanied by her mini horse. April 6, 2021

"We thought it would be interesting to have her out on a beautiful day. We're doing COVID shots out here, outside today," Arcieri said. "It's just a real neat experience here today."

Smith has been a horsewoman most of her life and worked with full-size horses before the pandemic, she said. She traveled around the country as a vendor for events like the the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

People she met would often ask Smith to bring her horses to visit their friends or relatives at the hospital, she said, but it was challenging to fit a full-sized horse into a hospital.

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“I couldn’t bring them a horse, and it really hurt that I couldn’t bring them a horse,” Smith said — so Dominique's Smiles was born.

"When you're giving people love and smiles, that kind of about sums it all up. It's what we all need to be doing, and we can all do that one way or the other," Smith said. "It is so important for everyone to get a COVID shot."