The dog spent her life cheering up children with cancer before cancer eventually claimed her life.
Harli was a Golden Retriever who volunteered as a therapy dog at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma for nearly 10 years.
She was diagnosed with cancer four times, most recently in October 2015 when veterinarians determined it was malignant.
Diana Doolittle, her handler, decided that Harli could continue her weekly visits to the hospital as long as she felt well enough.
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That was great news to kids and staff members who learned to look forward to Harli’s hugs, tricks and sloppy kisses.
Hanna Safley, 16, spent more than two years at Mary Bridge fighting leukemia and said Harli was always a high point in her day.
“I’d sometimes not walk out of my bed for weeks and she’d come and I would actually sit up and lean over to pet her,” Hanna told King-5. “She was always so sweet to me.”
Doolittle used to work as a nurse at the hospital and began volunteering with the Pet Partner program in 2006 after Harli became a registered therapy dog.
Harli visited more than 7,300 patients and staff members over the years. She retired in February when her tumors grew so large they broke through the skin and hampered her movements.
Doolittle used Spanx to control the tumors and changed the dog’s dressings twice daily.
“She maintained her indomitable, unquenchable spirit to the end,” Doolittle wrote in a letter to Mary Bridge.
On Aug. 6, Doolittle and Harli both knew it was time so they spent one last “best day” together.
They got treats from Harli’s favorite baristas and went for a stroll at Bradley Lake Park in Puyallup, where the dog trained and played over the years.
Harli tried to swim after the ducks but they moved too quickly so Harli settled for wading along the shore before a quick nap next to the playground, falling asleep to the happy shouts of kids.
Next it was a hamburger at Wendy’s and a Puppacino at Starbucks.
They ended the day at home, frolicking in the water from a hose.
“She was frisky and couldn’t get enough,” Doolittle wrote.
Harli got her last bath and trotted to the laundry room for a good teeth brushing and a few breath mints. Then she dozed off in the sun.
At the vet’s office, Doolittle wrapped her arms around Harli’s neck as the vet injected the dog with a needle. Harli stole one last treat off her mom’s lap.
When it was all over, Harli leaned forward and licked the vet’s nose.
“This scene was such a great summary of her life’s work and purpose,” Doolittle said. “She was grace and dignity to the end.”
Part of Harli’s story lives on in a children’s book titled “Harli Goes To The Hospital.”
But mostly she’ll live on in the hearts and memories of cancer-stricken children at Mary Bridge who found hope and happiness in Harli’s visits.
“When you think of Harli, please remember her with joy. That was after all, her purpose in life,” Doolittle wrote.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653