DALLASTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — “I don’t think anybody can look at him, including you, without smiling,” says Sandy Smith, founder of nonprofit Dominique’s Smiles. And she’s not wrong. Dominique the miniature therapy horse brought plenty of smiles to Dallastown Medical Associates Tuesday afternoon as he accompanied Smith for her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Smith and Dominique hope to spread the message that “it is so important for everyone to get a [COVID-19] shot,” Smith says. She also wants to bring happiness to others in all situations. For example, she says Dominique may be able to help those who are nervous about getting their shots.
Before the pandemic, Smith worked with full-size horses and traveled around the country as a vendor at events like the Farm Show. She developed relationships with people at these events, and once she got to know them, she started learning that their children or other family members had cancer.
When she was near hospitals where these individuals were receiving treatment, Smith would call and ask what they would like her to bring them. They would ask her to bring them a horse.
Unfortunately, it’s rather challenging to fit a horse into a hospital. “I couldn’t bring them a horse, and it really hurt that I couldn’t bring them a horse,” says Smith. “There’s nothing wrong with a dog, but a horse is magical.”
So in 2019 Smith found Dominique, a 33-inch-tall 6-year-old appaloosa mini horse. She trained and certified him to be a therapy horse, and founded Dominique’s Smiles. Through the nonprofit, individuals can get a free visit — and lots of free smiles — from Dominique.
However, COVID-19 temporarily stymied Smith’s initiative. Dominique has been able to visit some nursing homes and private residences, and he practices his therapy horse skills at the Park City Center, but he hasn’t yet been able to visit hospitalized children due to coronavirus safety precautions.
“I can’t even get into hospitals when people really need smiles and love the most,” says Smith. “I’ve made some private home visits, and I’ve gone into Park City and things, but not my mission.”
When Smith was getting her first COVID-19 shot, she told her doctor about Dominique and explained that she was frustrated that they weren’t able to visit hospitals. The doctor suggested that Smith bring her horse along for the second dose, so this week, Dominique visited his first doctor’s office.
Smith looks forward to the end of the pandemic when she and Dominique can fully fulfill the mission of Dominique’s Smiles. “Can you imagine going into children’s rooms that are sick and that have had chemo and feel down and out…and then all of a sudden seeing a horse? And the smiles that go on their faces?” Smith asks.
“It’s about bringing love and smiles to people, and [putting] them in a better place,” says Smith. “It’s about letting people know you care, it’s letting them see this cute little horse and petting it, and something that they definitely wouldn’t expect, and knowing that you bother.”
Information about requesting a free visit from Dominique can be found on the Dominique’s Smiles website.