Adopted Dog Brings Love and Comfort to Pediatric Palliative Care

For Tara and her patients, finding Nemo changed everything.

Tara + Nemo

Tara thought that an adopted dog might help her patients in pediatric palliative care. But finding Nemo also brought her the comfort and unconditional love she needed most.

"Every morning he fills my soul with happiness as he races me down the hall with his wagging tail and toy, so excited for a new day to begin."

Adopted Dog Nemo

It sounds cliché, but I am not sure if Nemo found me or I found him. The truth is probably somewhere in between. I wanted a dog my entire life. But wasn’t sure when the right time to adopt one was. That’s where my job comes in. I work as a nurse practitioner in pediatric palliative care. Some of our patients are in the hospital for a long time. One day a patient said, “You should really have a dog on your team. It would be perfect!” This sent me on a mission. I spent months researching resident dog programs. I had applications at many local shelters and hoped everything would fall into place. That’s when Potter League for Animals called me.

Adopted Dog Nemo

I went to visit and the very last dog I saw was Nemo with his gentle brown eyes. I knew this was my guy. I spent the next couple of hours with him and thought, “I have no idea whether you’ll be our team dog, regardless you are coming home with me!”

Within the first few weeks of adopting Nemo, a patient who I was very close to passed away. My heart was a bit broken when I came home. I sat on the ground and apologized to Nemo for not being there. I said, “I hope you can join me someday and help our patients, (Johnny) would’ve loved you.” Nemo very gently put his paw on my shoulder and gave me a kiss. How did he just get it?

Adopted Dog Nemo

After the next months of training, hiking, running and acclimating with Simba (my cat), Nemo was able to make his first trip to the hospital. I knew how special his presence was for me, but
would it be that way for others? It was more powerful than I imagined. One story, in particular, stands out.

We had a young boy who was terminally ill. He was sleepy, but when we walked in he opened his eyes and said “Nemo!” Nemo lay in bed with him and they slept together. Each day he asked for Nemo, and Nemo would lay with him. On the day of his passing, I learned that this boy had fundraised for and wanted his Make-a-Wish to go to Potter League for Animals. Nemo came to say goodbye to his friend and his family. His mom said Nemo’s visits meant more than I could ever know.

Adopted Dog Nemo

“Finding Nemo” has changed my life in ways I can’t describe. Every morning he fills my soul with happiness as he races me down the hall with his wagging tail and toy, so excited for a new day to begin. Nemo makes groups of surgeons stop in the hall to say hi, he brings smiles to strangers on the street with his confident trot and his licks dry the tears of grieving families, staff and my own. Most of all Nemo brings peace and joy to the hearts of those around him just by being present.

Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Tara won Potter League for Animals in Middletown, Rhode Island a 2019 Holiday Wishes award.