As National Volunteer Week begins on April 15, community members wanting to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors can find many openings at their local BAYADA Hospice office. In addition to volunteer positions for humans, BAYADA also provides opportunities for canines to support patients and families coping with the end of life.
“Interaction with certified therapy canines helps with end-of-life evaluation and closure,” explained Francesca Dangelo, BAYADA Hospice volunteer and bereavement coordinator. “Visits with our ‘canine volunteers’ often bring memories of past pets to the surface, paving the way for reminiscing, and discussion. Having a pet present during these conversations also provides a stabilizing influence.”
Pet therapy offers an array of medical benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, releasing endorphins that produce calming effect, and diminishing physical pain. It also specifically helps those receiving hospice care.
The BAYADA Hospice office in Jamison, PA started with two pet therapy dogs – Sophie and Rosie – and their handlers Karen Smith and Marianne Mekel. Since then, the program has expanded to six sets of canine and human volunteers. The dogs spend about 30 to 45 minutes with each patient simply lying with them, snuggling, and offering companionship and affection while the patient reflects on their life and the legacy they’d like to leave behind.
Certified therapy dogs go through evaluation, orientation, and training, as well as hitting minimum age requirement, before becoming certified through either Therapy Dog International or Comfort Caring Canines. The two agencies have assisted by sending out messages to their certified “graduates” letting them know of BAYADA’s need to provide more compassionate volunteers for the organization’s patients and families.
As the program continues to grow, BAYADA Hospice looks forward to continuing to find new and innovative ways to support patients and families as they find joy in life along their final journey.