Jennifer Thompson Trepanier is no stranger to chronic illnesses. When she was 12, Jennifer was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a rare disease that caused her immune system to attack her muscles. For months she couldn't get out of bed and even had trouble swallowing. After four years, she finally went into remission, but her early twenties brought a wave of unexplained fevers and joint pains that lasted three years.
In light of these treacherous experiences, Jennifer knew she wanted to help people who spent their lives fighting serious illnesses. "I was on Facebook, and I saw this video of puppies being piled on people," Jennifer told TODAY. "I said, that's what I want to bring to people who are sick and dying... a light in the darkness."
After a lot of hard work and coordination, Jennifer founded the nonprofit Pile of Puppies, which aims to bring some four-legged fun to sick children and their families.
To arrange the visits, Jennifer works with 40 breeders in Oregon. (Don't worry. No puppy mills involved.) As a part of the initiative, breeders donate their time by bathing the puppies and sometimes traveling several hours to make a single visit happen. "(I've met) so many giving people," Jennifer said. "Our world really is more good than it is bad."
The puppy visits offer an amazing morale boost for children. "The hardest part is knowing what the parents and their child are going through after I leave," Jennifer said. "I get to bring the joy, but I know there's a lot of suffering behind that."
Now, Jennifer tries to focus on the positives. "I was that child who almost died, and I believe there's a gift in disease," Jennifer said. "We live in a world that pushes death by the wayside, but there is profound wisdom in suffering if people can listen inwardly and practice being present."
Watch Pile of Puppies in action in the video below.