Two months ago, our Maxie, a 16-year-old black Standard Poodle, died. During her 14+ year career as a therapy dog, she made over 300 visits with nursing home residents, hospice patients, and distressed college students. Watching how people responded to Maxie was a rewarding experience that I will always treasure.
Regardless of the setting, Maxie’s presence brought calmness and stress relief to many who interacted with her. It was a gift for people who were going through the toughest times of their lives, and I am happy that I could be a part of that.
Pet therapy helped Mom while on hospice
One of Maxie’s favorite people was my mom, Edna. My mom received palliative care and then hospice from Care Dimensions before she died peacefully in May 2014. Maxie and I joined Care Dimensions as a volunteer pet therapy team later that year after I saw how comforting pet therapy visits were for Mom. I saw all of Care Dimensions’ complementary therapies (pet therapy, music therapy, Reiki, massage) come together for Mom, which made the end of her life a more peaceful time. I wanted to be able to help others experience a positive end of life in the same way.
As part of a pet therapy team, I witnessed how some people who thought they were all alone in the world suddenly had someone with whom they could share their thoughts. They treated Maxie as a person, and even told her things they wouldn’t tell anyone else, like their feelings about their lives, and dying. While stroking Maxie’s soft coat, maybe they were able to think about a happier time. Some would talk about their own dog or pets. Others weren’t verbal, but I could tell just by looking in their eyes or a wave of their hand that they were glad to see Maxie.
The rewards of being a pet therapy volunteer
People noticed Maxie whenever she walked into a therapy visit. She gobbled up attention and treats. In her younger days, she would bring a ball to patients so they could roll it to her. She liked to play with them. It was a lot of fun and rewarding and she knew how to cheer people up. My daughter, Becca, taught her to lift her paw and “wave” good-bye.
One Care Dimensions patient we saw regularly had dementia and wasn’t verbal, but every time we came, we pushed him in the wheelchair and he walked Maxie. We would go to Starbucks for coffee or a treat, and Maxie got water. He really liked walking Maxie – she knew how to walk around his wheelchair. He would hold her leash and walk her. Even though he couldn’t talk, he had a twinkle in his eye. I knew he was having a good time and looked forward to our next visit.
I miss Maxie, but I always will have good memories of our times helping others. I’m taking a break from being a dog owner at the moment, but if you have a dog and want to make a difference in someone’s life, I suggest you train your dog to do pet visits for hospice patients. It builds an incredible bond with your dog, and the patient visits are very satisfying. Maxie taught me that I could help make someone’s end of life really comforting and peaceful. Wouldn’t that be a nice gift for you to give?
Care Dimensions is seeking volunteers with dogs that are certified in pet therapy or have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test to join our Complementary Therapies Program. Visit our Volunteers page for more information, or contact Volunteer Coordinator Heather Merrill, 781-373-6509.