The comfort brought to a 15-year-old Longford boy by his canine comrade during his treatment for a rare form of cancer has inspired a new charity initiative that will allow children at the national children’s hospital to see their pets.
Having lost their beloved son, Cian, to Hepatosplenic T cell lymphoma in September 2019, Evelyn and Enda Neary have set up ‘Cian’s Kennels’, to provide free holding kennels on the site of Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin, previously known as Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital.
The dream is to then relocate to a fully resourced facility on, or close to the new children’s hospital when it opens. Already approximately €175,000 has been raised for the project.
“Cian loved life generally, and his greatest love was animals of all shapes and sizes. Our world fell apart when he was diagnosed with hepatosplenic T cell lymphoma in September 2018,” said Evelyn.
Although he had been feeling below par during the summer, the diagnosis was a massive shock.
“After a bone marrow and liver biopsies were carried out, the doctors sat us down the following day and told us that it was Lymphoma, a really rare form that they hadn’t a case of in Crumlin in 20 years,” said Evelyn.
“They said they were going to fight it with chemotherapy and ultimately a bone marrow transplant.”
With Cian very sick in ICU and upset at the thought of losing his hair, the consultant said that it would be a good time to ask his parents for something that he really wanted.
“We already had a dog and a cat but Cian said he wanted a dog of his own,” said Evelyn.
After he chose the name Cooper, Cian found the adorable golden Labrador five-month old pup that was to become his loyal canine buddy.
“Cooper was a fantastic distraction as Cian never went back to school after the diagnosis,” Evelyn said.
Cian had been on various treatments with lots of short hospital stays and was about to start on the road to bone marrow transplant when he became very ill in June 2019. He spent the next three months in hospital, in Crumlin, with the family based at the Ronald McDonald House for most of this time.
When in hospital, Cian pined for his canine companion as the family held out hope for a new drug in the US. With the support of Aoibheann’s Pink Tie charity, they managed to bring Cooper to Dublin and base him in kennels near the hospital.
“Cian visited Cooper most days, and we cannot overstate the positive impact this had,” said Evelyn.
“Cian remained in hospital and on treatment until the last week of his life, and having Cooper near the hospital allowed him to enjoy many occasions and outings in Dublin knowing that Cooper was safe nearby.
“For us, as a family, these outings and the time Cian spent with Cooper became the basis of lasting precious memories for us when Cian sadly lost his battle for life in the early hours of September 23, 2019,” she said.
“We experienced first-hand the joy Cooper brought Cian and us during the most difficult days,” said Evelyn.
“Cian’s younger sibling, Shane, used to go to the kennels and play with the cats. The impact on him was huge.
“Having Cooper around brought normality. When you’ve a child in St John’s ward, you’re so worried and exhausted. It’s a dark hole. It’s another world which you’d never want to be in and anything that brings a bit of routine and normality is welcome. To be able to have a pet nearby and go for a walk is just fantastic,” Evelyn said.
“The ‘Cian’s Kennel’s’ story was born with Cian when Cooper arrived in Dublin. We now hope to continue that journey in Cian’s memory by bringing pets closer to sick children and their families.
“Our plan with ‘Cian’s Kennels’ is to provide kennelling facilities for the children’s hospital, providing this service in a structured, safe, practical way, free of charge to all qualifying families, ” said Evelyn.
Phase one of the canine project – the provision of a smallscale modular structure near St. John’s Ward, sponsored by Steeltech, at Children’s Hospital Ireland, Crumlin – will get underway on January 3.
“We have the design plans finalised which will include an extensive clean-up of the area. The modular structure will be fitted with a hospital grade interior and toilets and will be fully wheelchair accessible,” Evelyn said.
“‘Cian’s Kennels’ now has a van on the road that will collect vaccinated vet checked dogs. The vet checks and vaccinations will be provided by a network of vets throughout Ireland, organised by Cian’s Kennels.
“Pets will be brought to the DSPCA which will house them. A volunteer will then bring the dogs to the holding kennels/visiting area at the hospital,” she said.
“We hope that the full service of phase one will be up and running by the spring,” said Evelyn.
“The estimated capital costs for the phase one holding kennels/visiting area is approximately €90,000, excluding the donation of materials and services. Yearly running costs are expected to be in the region of €60,000,” she said.
The Nearys have been overwhelmed by the support they have received for the initiative, including that of the farming community. A recent fundraising cycle ‘Malin to Mizen’, held on Cian’s second anniversary, has brought in approximately €66,000 to date.
The aim is that phase two at the new children’s hospital will see a state-of-the-art kennels and recreational area for families, with in-kennel cameras allowing children to see their canine companions from their beds.
Those plans are in the early stages, with a team of experts in place including kennel operators, veterinary experts and architects to assist with the project.
Having seen the difference that having access to his pet made to Cian during his illness, Evelyn and Enda are ensuring that the process is made easier for other families.
Meanwhile, Cooper remains centrestage.
“He is now the four-legged ambassador for ‘Cian’s Kennels’ and attends a lot of the fundraising events,” said Evelyn.