September is Therapy Dog Awareness Month. Did you know that BAYADA Hospice offers fulfilling volunteer opportunities for adults of all ages, and even for dogs?
Hospice Volunteer Opportunities for Humans and Therapy Dogs
To qualify as a canine companion for individuals who are receiving hospice care services, a therapy dog must be evaluated and registered with either Therapy Dogs International or Comfort Caring Canines. Their certified evaluators ensure that your dog has the proper training and, most importantly, the right temperament to provide therapeutic visits.
Therapy dogs, sometimes called hospice dogs, are not the same as an emotional support animal or a service animal that is specially trained to stay with and help their one person. The role of a therapy dog is to provide short visits to individuals receiving health care services in a private home or facility.
What is hospice pet therapy?
In hospice care, which is provided wherever a patient calls home, therapy dogs spend about 30 to 45 minutes with each patient simply lying with them, snuggling, and offering companionship and affection, often while the patient reflects on their life and the legacy they want to leave behind.
We approach hospice as a celebration of one’s life and relationships, which can be a beautiful experience. In addition to keeping our patients cared for and comfortable, it gives us joy to find new and innovative ways to support patients and families as they find their own joy, peace, and meaningful moments along their end-of-life journey.
Hospice pet therapy offers a variety of benefits
Pet therapy for hospice patients offers an array of medical and emotional benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, and releasing endorphins (feel-good hormones) that produce a calming effect and diminish pain. Add that to its psychosocial benefits for patients who may be feeling alone and afraid, and you get a powerful recipe for well-being!
The amazing impact of our ‘canine volunteers’ can be seen on the faces of everyone they meet! “Interaction with certified therapy canines helps with end-of-life evaluation and closure,” explained Francesca D’Angelo, BAYADA Hospice Volunteer and Bereavement Coordinator. “Their visits often bring memories to the surface, paving the way for reminiscing and conversation with loved ones. The calming presence of a therapy dog has a stabilizing influence on our patients.”
Moments of joy for everyone involved
“Residents of our assisted living facility greatly enjoy their therapy dog visits,” said Amanda Abate, CDP, a Reminiscence Coordinator in Blue Bell, PA. “Those in the Memory Care Unit, who have cognitive deficits, especially love it. It sparks conversations about their past pets and brings them joy. Apollo is welcome here anytime!”
Program ‘graduate’ Mary Halton said, “I loved Apollo, he is a dear, big teddy bear. So sweet, so gentle. He is very well trained and a very good dog. I was thrilled to have him visit.”
Who’s a good boy? Apollo the Bernese Mountain Dog is the team’s newest canine volunteer—a gentle giant who is loved by all. This big love bug brings so much happiness to our patients! (And yes, he has his own ID badge.)
What pet therapy is like for their humans
Apollo’s ‘dog mom’ Amy Holman says that as soon as they tried this path, he was a natural. “Being able to give back is something I enjoy, and I love animals, so being able to do something with our dog made volunteering an easy decision. Plus, the time schedule would be flexible.
“Apollo loves meeting new people and having them pet him. So, when he is working, it’s perfect because all the attention is on him—just what he wants.
“I love seeing how happy his visits make the patients, and how sometimes they remember earlier days when they had pets in their lives. It brings back happy memories.”
And that is what BAYADA Hospice care is all about: helping our patients and their families make the most of the time they have.
Would it do your heart good to be a bright spot in someone’s day?
Find fulfilling volunteer opportunities—with or without a pet—at your local BAYADA Hospice office!