He's spent the last three years cheering up children in hospital.

Now he needs help for a lifesaving operation.

Kambi the labrador is a regular fixture in the children's ward at Whangarei Hospital on Tuesday afternoons for an hour.

His owner, Hannelise Le Lagadec, said the children played games with him - usually involving his toy.

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"The children get to hide it while I put a towel over his head.

"It always fascinates them he is able to sniff it out."

She said his role as a therapy dog was to help the children relax, and take their minds off the fact they were in hospital.

Therapy dog Kambi needs surgery and owner Hannelise Le Lagadec is struggling to find the money. Photo/John Stone
Therapy dog Kambi needs surgery and owner Hannelise Le Lagadec is struggling to find the money. Photo/John Stone

She said once they were invited by the parents of a young child who was bitten by a dog.

"The parents wanted her to get used to the fact that not all dogs were bad, so they asked Kambi and I to come."

She said initially the child was quite afraid but after the hour she was relaxed and touching him.

"It's just so rewarding to see what a difference you can make to their day and hopefully their perception of dogs."

Kambi also makes trips to the Whangarei District Court to spend time with children who are testifying.

About two weeks ago, Mrs Le Lagadec noticed 8-year-old Kambi was walking with difficulty, couldn't get up properly and occasionally cried in pain.

She took him to the vets and after being x-rayed, the pair were referred to a specialist in Kerikeri.

Katie Reed with Kambi in the playroom at Whangarei Hospital. Photo/Supplied
Katie Reed with Kambi in the playroom at Whangarei Hospital. Photo/Supplied

The news was grim - Kambi had severed both cruciate ligaments, which stabilise his knees, in his back legs and needed operations immediately.

Each cruciate operation costs $3300, however the vet told them as Kambi was a therapy dog, he would give them a $300 discount.

Kambi went for the first operation on Wednesday and now has plates and screws in his leg.

The vet gave them a further discount, only charging them $2500.

Mrs Le Lagadec did not have the $6000 in savings but the first operation had to be paid when she collected him.

She said her home loan allowed her to pay a bit extra, and she was entitled to draw it out in an emergency, so that is what she did to pay for the first one.

Her boss has started a Givealittle page online to pay for the two operations. The second one will be in one to two months when the first has healed.

Ms Le Lagadec said her insurance policy specified it did not cover cruciate ligaments, but she has put in a claim for the initial x-rays, which cost slightly more than $600.

She said she believed the injury was something labradors were susceptible to.

She said without the operations, Kambi would have had to be put down.

"It would be a toss up between how long he can carry on, on painkillers until it damages his kidneys ..th..th. and when is the pain so much we cannot justify keeping him alive."

She said labradors typically lived to about 12 years, so he had almost half his life left and the plates would last for that time.

"He's only a young dog, and we still have a lot of years that I believe we can give to the community, to the children.

Kambi is part of the Outreach Therapy Pets programme which sees animals go into hospitals and rest homes around the country.

To donate go to: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/savekambi