Meet Munchkin, Mayo's new therapy miniature horse

A mini horse
Munchkin, a therapy mini horse, has joined Mayo's therapy animal team. He visited the lobby of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Friday.
Ken Klotzbach for MPR News

There was a real dog and pony show earlier today in the lobby of Mayo Clinic’s Gonda building in Rochester.

“Hi baby. How are you? Oh my god, you’re so cute,” said Nurse Kathy Boyle who paused for a moment.

There were no dogs there actually. But there was one very small miniature horse named Munchkin, the newest member of Mayo’s stable of therapy animals.

Boyle gave him some love and attention.

A woman pets a mini horse
Registered nurse Anna Palmer, center, takes a moment to pet Munchkin, a therapy mini horse at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Friday.
Ken Klotzbach for MPR News

“Thank you for coming. Yeah, thank you for coming to visit us,” she said.

Boyle is one of dozens of Mayo employees and visitors who gathered around Munchkin. He stands just over two feet tall with a long snowy mane and, perhaps appropriately, a white coat.

He really drew a crowd with his tiny boots (to prevent him from slipping on the hospital’s tile floors) and his official Mayo employee badge (just in case you had any question about this small guy’s ID.)

In her job overseeing Mayo’s breast cancer nurses, Boyle said Mayo’s therapy dogs often visit and it’s as therapeutic for the patients as it is for her staff, where moments of total joy can be few and far between.

“We got to see the dog today. There’s like three or four dogs that come and visit and they just love it,” she said

So why add Munchkin to the mix?

“Well, first, he’s cute, right?” said Whitney Romine, Mayo’s animal assistance services coordinator. She said bringing in Munchkin solves some practical problems the therapy dogs present.

A child reaches to pet a mini horse
Suhani Sunder reaches out to pet Munchkin, a mini therapy horse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Friday.
Ken Klotzbach for MPR News

“Mostly because there are instances where people might be afraid of dogs or are allergic to dogs,” she said. “So adding an additional species increases our options that we can offer to patients.”

Handler Amanda Peters added being a therapy equine runs in Munchkin’s blood. His mom did the same thing. Plus, he’s potty trained.

“He knows not to go in the house,” said Peters. “And we just make sure his feeding schedule is such that he doesn’t have to go when he’s inside.”

In a place that can be awash with hard news, Romine said seeing Mayo patients and staff light up around the animals is the best part of her job.

Romine recalled training a therapy dog a few years ago when an employee asked to sit with the pup.

“So we paused and the dog was wonderful. We sat down on the floor, and he just leaned into the guy. And you could just see his face light up. He says, ‘Thanks so much for the visit.’ As he’s walking away, you kind of see a little bounce in his step. And he says ‘This high is going to sustain me for the next six months.’”

A woman and a mini horse
Munchkin, a therapy mini horse, and Munchkin's owner, volunteer therapist Amanda Peters, greet visitors in the lobby of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Friday.
Ken Klotzbach for MPR News