Rocky Scores a Knock Out Against Hospice Blues

Note from me – I’m turning today’s Wintersong over to my canine friend in Las Vegas, who would like to tell about a special program benefiting people who need the extra special care that dogs like Rocky provide in abundance.

Hi! My name is Rocky and I live in Las Vegas with Adrienne, my human, whom I prefer to call Mom, (that’s us on the right) and my adopted sister Chloe (she’s further down on the left). While Mom works, Chloe and I stay home and spend some of our day on the couch watching television that Mom tunes to the Animal Planet channel for us before she leaves for work. We like watching all the animals that are different from us. When she comes home in the afternoons she takes us for walks through the neighborhood and in the park nearby.

On weekends she takes just me and we get to spend special time visiting people who want to pet me and hug me. Chloe would like to come, too, but she’s a little silly sometimes and doesn’t listen to Mom like I do, so she has to stay home. Sometimes the people we visit look so sad as they talk with Mom about things I don’t understand, but i know they must like me because they sure like to pet me. I like them because they let me lick their hands and sometimes their faces too! Sometimes they feed me treats. I like that a lot! When we leave, I get to go to the dog park with Mom, and sometimes the treat store too! I like that a lot!”

You see, Mom feels the work she does for a living is not something that “gives back” enough to the community or society, but by us doing this kind of volunteer work she not only brings a little something–not happiness maybe, but at least a break from their sadness–that she can’t help feeling better about her life. She says we all are going to die someday, and she knows how lonely it can be to lie in bed waiting to die –even if you are surrounded by loved ones–because she went through this experience with her mother. She says it’s important to give as much love as possible to these patients for whatever time they have left to live. I have lots of love to give, and there are no strings attached, except for my leash which I have to wear during our visits, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Mom found out about Therapy Dogs, Inc. which is a non-profit, all volunteer organization that trains well behaved dogs like me as pet-therapists. In order to join, I had to pass a canine good citizen test. I am not a service dog like those that help sight-impaired people, but with prior permission we are allowed to visit terminal patients in hospitals and nursing homes. The organization Mom and I currently work with here in Las Vegas is the Nathan Adelson Hospice where I went for volunteer training. Although our first three visits were probationary with a TDI member with us for insurance purposes and to make certain we were comfortable doing these visits, we have done–at the time of this post–three more visits on our own, and things have gone very well so far.

Mom and I went up and down the hallways and stopped at the door of each room to ask if they would like a visit. All of these patients are dying so we always try to go in with a cheery attitude and if they want to pet me, Mom puts me on a chair next to their bed or holds me in her arms so they can reach me. Sometimes they ask me to lie on the bed next to them, so I do. Not all the patients are old; some are very young. Some are disoriented or staring into space, and some are praying. Although Mom can’t help the patients–that is the staff’s job–she notifies them if help is needed. Most of the time there are family members in the rooms. They are often the ones who benefit the most from our visits as it is very hard on them as well. Mom says she thinks it’s hardest on those being left behind.

Last week we were walking down the hall and this older gentleman with a cane came out of a room and smiled at me. We walked over and he petted me and he and Mom started talking. Twenty-five minutes later we had learned that he was a survivor of Pearl Harbor and that his wife, who was the patient, was in a coma and they had been married 65 years! I think he enjoyed the time we spent with him, and I could tell Mom was honored to have met him! Our time here is so special. We have had children run out of the rooms where their loved ones were dying so they could hug me. Mom once stayed with a grandma who was playing solitaire as she waited to pass, and she seemed so happy to pet me and visit. Mom says this has been a life changing experience for her, and one that neither of us could do without the other.

We haven’t visited any regular hospitals or nursing homes yet, since we only have weekends because of Mom’s job, but we hope we can do that too someday when we have more time! And we hope to see if the cancer center near us will let us visit their patients. There are pet therapy programs internationally, too. If anyone reading my story is interested in doing this kind of volunteer work, Mom suggests you check with a local hospice or nursing home and find out what volunteer pet therapy programs they may have, or you can just go here to learn more.

Well, I have to go now and play with Chloe and watch Animal Planet for awhile until Mom gets home. I hope I don’t ever see you as a patient in the hospice, but if you happen to be in town and see me in the park or walking down the street with Mom, be sure to say hello.