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The therapy dog Alma helped young Nora through debilitating illness

The therapy dog Alma helped young Nora through debilitating illness

Irén Sagvolden and therapy dog Alma helped Nora through a difficult period marked by debilitating illness, and the traces left by a serious illness on a young girl whose everyday life was torn away. This created significant and touching encounters for Nora, her family, and for Irén, who had the joy of being a crucial support for a vulnerable young girl. It's a beautiful story that has forged strong bonds and lifelong memories, and it's a story that eloquently illustrates the immense importance of animal-assisted interventions.

Read or listen to Wenche recount Nora, Alma, and Irén's story.

Hello, my name is Wenche Mo, and I am Nora's mother.

In the fall of 2020, Nora fell seriously ill. A brief hospital stay led to an almost year-long hospitalization. Our lives were suddenly turned upside down from being a close-knit family of four. We were still a family of four, but not as tightly knit because we had to split into two, with one staying home with Eirik, Nora's younger brother, and the other accompanying Nora to the hospital. Fortunately, we didn't live far from the Rikshospitalet, so my husband and I had shifts, each spending three nights at the hospital. Eventually, Nora received what's called home hospitalization, meaning she had hospital care at home. But we had nurses who took care of the medical aspects.

Nora was very traumatized after being seriously ill. She had a lot of pain. She developed something called pain syndrome, so even the slightest touch could make her scream in pain. Nora didn't really ask for much; she was just trying to survive each day. But then one day she said, "Mom, I really want to have a visit from a therapy dog." And I thought I had to make that happen because Nora hadn't asked for anything in a long time. So I called the Red Cross, as they were the only ones I knew of that dealt with therapy dogs. I spoke to a nice lady who informed me that they didn't have therapy dogs for children but recommended I call Dyrebar Omsorg (ICofA’s Norwegian company). I called Dyrebar Omsorg, and I remember where I was—I was out walking, heading towards Tåsen—when I had the first conversation with Dyrebar Omsorg. I spoke to a nice lady whose name I can't quite remember now. I told her about our situation, that we wanted a visit from a therapy dog, preferably one that was as hypoallergenic as possible because Nora had allergies. And that's when I was introduced to Irén and Alma. They could come just a couple of days after my first conversation with Dyrebar Omsorg.

Irèn and the therapy dog Alma

Irén and Alma

I'll never forget coming home to Nora lying in the hospital bed. She just lay there, needing help with absolutely everything—she had tube feeding, she had a catheter. She was a care patient, and I'll never forget that smile when I told her she was going to have a visit from a therapy dog. Nor will I forget our first meeting. It was absolutely magical. We were all very nervous; Nora had a very small tolerance window, so she couldn't handle much. She got tired very quickly, but the joy she had at the prospect of a visit was immense. And the first meeting with Alma and Irén—we mustn't forget Irén, for she has been absolutely magical too. There's an article titled "The Dynamic Duo: Nora and Alma," but I'd also say there's another dynamic duo, and that's Irén and Alma. Going back to the first meeting, I'll never forget when Alma jumped onto the hospital bed—thankfully, we have it on video, and it's truly magical. Alma jumped onto the hospital bed, and it's as if she knew exactly how to handle herself, where to lie down. It was the first time I saw Nora's body relax so well. Usually, she'd get scared if anyone touched areas where it might hurt. So it was love at first sight.

Nora and the therapy dog Alma

Alma is a support for Nora

Nora had to undergo anesthesia once a week on Thursdays, and Thursdays were always very tough until Alma came into our lives. Because then Alma would visit her later in the day, giving her something to look forward to. Thankfully, Nora got better, so it's been an incredibly exciting journey to see how Alma and Nora have adapted to each other, from Nora being a care patient, which I think was very new for Alma, to—I'll never forget the first time Alma saw Nora stand. Alma was there when Nora went down the stairs, and how protective Alma was then.

About a year and a half ago, we used the phrase "first time" very often because it was the first time Nora sat up in bed, 

it was the first time Nora took steps, 

it was the first time Nora went to school in almost two years, 

it was the first time Nora went to the store, 

it was the first time Nora had a birthday party after being ill, 

and Alma was there to experience it all.

And I think that also affected Nora's stress level, and her body relaxed more with Alma's presence. And we mustn't forget the rest of the family; one thing is what she and Nora have achieved, but Alma also brought joy to the entire family and to Nora's little brother. Irén was very good at also considering Nora's little brother, so he got to go on some walks with Alma. My husband, my parents, grandparents, Alma has gained a very, very significant place in our lives.


Alma has been a very important help in dealing with trauma. I've experienced that children who have been seriously ill also suffer some trauma. Nora did, and Alma has been present during the conversations with the trauma psychologist and has been an important support during difficult discussions. Unfortunately, Alma couldn't accompany us to the Rikshospitalet, but Alma would stand outside the doctor's window while Irén demonstrated her tricks with Alma. I think everyone at the polyclinic at Rikshospitalet knows who Alma is. Nora has talked so much about Alma, and in treatment sessions, the importance of Alma has been emphasized.

Nora and the therapy dog Alma

Financial Support

I wish therapy dogs were covered by insurance because I think many could benefit greatly, or I know many could benefit greatly from it. And from a societal standpoint, I think it's sad that there aren't more financial arrangements for more people to have the joy of visits from Alma or other animals. I work in the health sector and I wondered what kind of arrangements actually exist because unfortunately, in primary care, things can be very bureaucratic, including regarding what kind of services one can apply for. In the district we live in, we were fortunate to be granted something called care allowance, so they cover a bit, maybe a third of the cost of having a therapy dog for an hour, but we're grateful for everything we get covered. Unfortunately, I'm unsure how easy it is to get it covered, and that's one of the reasons I want to spread the message and spread knowledge about Dyrebar Omsorg, hoping that maybe there could be some financial solutions.

Nora and the therapy dog at school

Alma Supported Nora at School

Alma also accompanied Nora to school when she had a math test. Nora spent two weeks at school in fifth grade and then a bit in seventh grade because she was too ill for regular lessons we started with a bit of homeschooling in seventh grade, and then she gradually managed more and more at school. Now she has started high school, and it's going beyond all expectations. Nora was very anxious about a math test, so I called Irén and asked if Alma could come along. And of course, Irén always says yes, and we also got the green light from the school, so Alma joined Nora for the math test. And it was a very nice feeling of achievement for her. Alma lay under the desk, and I think Alma actually reassured the whole class. I think they felt it was special to have Alma visit.

Alma has actually been with Nora twice when she talked about being seriously ill. Once in elementary school and once in high school. We sent messages to the parents beforehand when Alma was going to be there, and we only got positive responses. We've had close contact with the school because her history was important, and Nora attended the meetings and talked about the importance of having Alma. So when Nora wanted to first give a presentation about being seriously ill and what it meant because when she started high school, she was in a wheelchair for a bit. Now there was a period where she had learned to walk again and walked occasionally, but she often needed to sit in a wheelchair because her body got very tired. Then it was important for her to explain why, so the students wouldn't start wondering why she could run one moment and then had to sit in a wheelchair the next. Nora wanted to tell her story and about having Alma's support. The school has been very cooperative. I think the staff at the school actually find it very useful to see the function Alma has. Not only for Nora as a student but also for Nora's classmates. It makes a difference when such a beautiful animal comes into the classroom. Before the start of the school year, Irén and Alma went with Nora to the school and brought equipment and things we would need, and then the staff at the school were allowed to greet Alma. So it was a good start.

We wish we hadn't experienced what we did, that Nora became seriously ill, but at the same time, we are incredibly grateful that it turned out so well.


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