By John Ramos

WALNUT CREEK (KPIX) — It’s been a tough time for health care workers during the pandemic and so much death and disease is taking a huge emotional toll but the staff at John Muir Medical Center discovered that, when it comes to stress relief, good things really do come in small packages.

On Saturday, a group of mini horses from the rescue group “Angels for Minis” visited the hospital’s Walnut Creek campus.

“It’s just taken everything out of us to keep going and doing this,” said nurse Dana Maiorana. “It’s been a very, very stressful time and people are exhausted.”

Maiorana is a critical care nurse at the hospital and a volunteer at the rescue and she arranged for staff to take a break from the seriousness of their mission to pet the waist-high therapy animals. And for those who couldn’t leave their posts, a horse named Scout trooped up to the second-floor critical care ward to get a hug and pose for pictures with the workers.

“I just feel my hormones — I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so cute! Let me touch you. Let me kiss you. Let me tell you how cute you are!’” said ER nurse Caitlin Coulter. “And I feel happier and I’m like, OK, I can enjoy the rest of my day now knowing that I petted a horse and it was cute!”

The sight of something so small that is normally so big sparks wonder — or at least it does for Christina Sessum.

“It’s unique and I’m small myself so I love it when I see them,” she said. “I can’t help it. I love horses but mini horses are the greatest!”

As lovable as the mini horses are, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would abuse them but “Angels for Minis” founder, Mary Stewart, was surprised by what happened after she was approached by animal control for help.

“They asked us to start a rescue, suggesting it would be maybe 10-15 a year that we would take in,” she said. “The first year we took in over 200 horses.”

In seven years they’ve rescued more than 700 mini horses. One of the horses at the hospital, Cisco, had been found horribly emaciated from neglect. They brought him back to health and, on Saturday, he and his diminutive friends were helping others by bringing a tiny bit of joy to a place that can surely use it.

“We haven’t seen anyone’s smiles for a year and a half and it’s sad, you know?” Maiorana said. “So I’m looking forward to us being through this and having kind of a different chapter.”

These are challenging times for the rescue group as well. If you’d like to contribute to the efforts of Angels for Minis, there’s more information at http://angelsforminis.com