Bonnie Morgan adopted her first pig in 1985, shortly after reading a Newsweek magazine article on how pot-bellied pigs make great pets for people who don’t have yards.
First came Hamlet. Oliver was next. Now there is Frankie, the only one of the Morgan’s three pigs to volunteer at Shriners Hospitals for Children® — Northern California.
“It is such a privilege to be a part of this,” says Bonnie, who put Frankie through the stringent Delta Society evaluation so she could volunteer at the children’s specialty hospital in Sacramento. The Delta Society is an international, not-for-profit organization of pet owners, volunteers, therapists, educators, veterinarians and other health professionals dedicated to improving human health through service and therapy animals. All animals registered as pet therapy volunteers are evaluated and registered by the Delta Society.
Frankie is one of 32 pets that volunteer at the hospital. “Right now we have 27 dogs, 1 cat, 2 bunnies, 1 pig and 1 rat,” says Cathy Bones, pet therapy coordinator at the hospital. “There is almost always an animal visiting every day, including evenings and weekends.”
Fully credentialed as pet therapy volunteers, Frankie and Bonnie drive regularly from their hilltop home in Vallejo to visit the kids at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento. Frankie steps from the backseat of the car into a red wagon and rides through the front doors of the hospital, up the elevator and into the central activity area. Within seconds, patients and parents gather around the wagon to be near Frankie and feel his coarse black hair. Frankie returns the affection with a “click” of his cheeks.
A human resource specialist by profession, Bonnie also volunteers at an Alzheimer’s facility in Berkeley and an assisted living facility in American Canyon. But seeing how Frankie brings smiles to young faces is an inspiring experience, says Bonnie who treasures the opportunity to be part of the pet therapy program.
“Pigs are an interesting species — very intelligent and clean, unlike most livestock and barnyard critters,” says Bones, who interviews all volunteer pets and their handlers. “One of the goals of pet-assisted therapy is to increase communication with other people, and Frankie – just by being Frankie – has a way of bringing people together. Kids and adults alike are excited to meet Frankie when he is here, and perhaps learn something about pigs,” says Bones.
At home, Frankie fits in just like a family dog. He climbs up and down the stairs, watches television with Bonnie and her husband, Jim, and goes for walks in the neighborhood.
“Exercise is very important because they do like to eat and can gain weight easily,” says Bonnie.
In the photos:
Top: Frankie get a treat from his handler, Bonnie Morgan.
Right: Kids and adults are excited to meet Frankie as he makes his rounds at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California.