Disney and Therapy Dogs, a Magical Match

A special group of canines joins in the fun as the Happiest Place on Earth hosts the CHOC Walk, a unique pediatric fundraising event.

Each year Disneyland hosts the CHOC Walk, one of the nation’s largest fundraising walks for children, which benefits Children’s Hospital of Orange County. CHOC, as it is known, shares a common heritage with the nearby Magic Kingdom, since Walt Disney also played a role in its founding. Even the hospital’s signature Choco Bear mascot was designed by a Disney artist.

This year nearly 16,000 CHOC Walk participants made the 3-mile jaunt on Oct. 13, winding through Disneyland and California Adventure, high-fiving Minnie, Mickey and the many other Disney characters lining the route, and more often dancing than walking, entertained by constant music from jazz to rock to marching bands.

Excitement and emotion fill the air, as current and former patients and their families, doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and just ordinary people inspired by the cause come together to celebrate the lives of children saved, or carry on the fundraising mission in memory of children who bravely lost their battle against serious disease or illness.

How could something so amazing get any better?

This year, for the first time, the park welcomed the hospital’s therapy dog teams to participate. From Molly the Maltese/Poodle mix to the Sheltie mates, Missy and Shellie, the pet therapy teams brought smiles, hugs and happiness to the walkers, just as they do every day at the hospital in Orange, Calif., visiting patients who sometimes respond best to a furry little friend.

The fun started even before the walk got under way.

“I have already bumped into several kids that we visited in the hospital,’’ says Kelly Rang, who can’t resist giving a hug to Savvy, her therapy Vizsla.

For years the therapy teams have longed to make the walk with their dogs. “We are just excited beyond words,’’ says Katie Mundia, mom of Molly. “This means so much to us to have a chance to bring our dogs.’’

Dogs at Disneyland

The CHOC therapy dog teams at Disneyland: Shelties Shellie and Missy with Carole (far left) and Don Melvin (back); Phantom the Chihuahua and Lynn Ehrenberg; Molly the Maltese mix with Katie Mundia; Savvy the Vizsla and Kelly Rang; Golden Retriever Magnolia and Stacey Duff; and Dexter with Kevin Graham. 

 This was my 16th straight CHOC Walk, but took probably twice as long as normal because the therapy dog teams were constantly being sought out by well-wishers, especially kids and their parents who just wanted to meet the dogs or take a photo with them.

At one point along the route a young man in a wheelchair pulls up alongside Golden Retriever Magnolia and her owner Stacey Duff, gently petting the therapy dog’s head as they move in synch down the route.

Disneyland Choc Walk

A young man in a wheelchair making the CHOC Walk in the Park at Disneyland gave some love to CHOC therapy dog Magnolia, a Golden Retriever.

As Shelties Shellie and Missy walk through California Adventure with owners Carole and Don Melvin, a young woman rushes up in greeting. “These dogs helped save my life,’’ she exclaims, explaining that years ago she had suffered from a serious illness and the dogs’ visits helped keep her going.

Somewhere up above, Walt must be smiling at his legacy of fun, caring and love.

Funds raised by the event support a variety of patient and family programs, including education, research and new technology to advance the care of children. To learn more visit www.choc.org

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