While out walking my foursome of Westies today along Minnehaha Parkway, a bicyclist called out, “Thank you for that! That’s quite a site.” She reminded me yet again of how little animals need to do to bring a smile to our faces. Some animals, however, take that spreading of joy and comfort mission quite seriously. Take the following story of Frankie by Barbara Techel.—Sid

Hospice plus Therapy Dogs equals Golden Moments

Frankie outside of Sharon S. Richardson Hospice Community

Becoming a volunteer in hospice with my therapy dog, Frankie was something I wanted to ease into.  It was last on my list of places to volunteer.  I wanted to get my feet wet first and experience this line of work in a senior assisted home and hospital setting.

The perception of being a volunteer in hospice is that it is depressing.  Some may wonder why you want to surround yourself with people who are dying.  Hospice and therapy dogs have intrigued me ever since I read Jon Katz’s book, Izzy and Lenore, Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey and Me.  The special bond that took place between patients, Jon’s dogs and Jon often had me in tears.  It was sad when the patient died, but at the same time it was the connection that formed between two people, and the dogs that had me feeling this was something indescribable taking place that could only be felt if one experienced it.

Though I was fascinated about hospice work I set aside the idea of volunteering until I felt “ready.”  To prepare myself Frankie and I began visiting Libby’s House as well as Memorial hospital.  Some of my most joyful times are during these visits.  Sharing Frankie with those that are lonely or sick fills my heart with warmth I’ve never known before.

One day I received a call from my friend, Luann. She volunteers with her dog, Sophie at Sharon S. Richardson Hospice (SSR).

She told me an elderly married couple, Mary and Tom were staying together in one of the suites at SSR Hospice.  Tom had just passed away.  Months before I had donated several copies of my book Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Dog to SSR Hospice in hopes it would help children visiting there.

Luann said, “Mary and Tom read your book together and she would love to meet Frankie.”  I was touched by the sweet image of the senior couple reading Frankie’s story together. Luann said we would need to visit soon as Mary was preparing to move back home.

Though a bit apprehensive about what to expect I put aside my feelings.  It was important to me to do this for Mary, who was grieving the loss of her dear husband.  If Frankie and I could bring a little joy to her life at this difficult time, it was something I felt compelled to do.

I was nervous driving to hospice that warm fall morning.  As I drove into the parking lot and saw the grounds in full autumn bloom, I felt this amazing peace wash over me.  Walking through the front doors I felt I was walking on sacred ground.  It may sound odd, but it was one of the most tranquil feelings I have ever had.

As Frankie rolled into Mary’s room and I walked beside her, I saw Mary sitting in a chair gazing out her window as if in a reflective state.  As she heard us approach, she turned, and with the biggest smile and joyful voice she said, “I prayed I would get to meet Frankie and here you are!”

She gave me a big hug.  She then lavished many pets and love onto Frankie.  Mary told me over and over how much we made her day.  To see her face light up in the midst of losing the love her of life, was just as much a gift to me.  To know Frankie brought some joy to her as she was in the depth of grief gave my heart a jolt of what making a difference really means.

Meeting Mary was the push I needed.  I was hooked. I knew this was something I wanted to experience more of.

Frankie gives me the confidence to walk into the rooms of complete strangers, knowing they are transitioning. I realize this may be the only time we meet them, or we could also develop a friendship.  I’ve learned to accept whatever the outcome is to be.

I’ve learned by observing Frankie to not judge, listen more than I speak, and treasure each person we encounter. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of someone’s last days or months.  I’ve also learned that hospice is not about dying, but rather living.  No matter what stage someone is at, each breath and moment is precious.

There are many special therapy dog teams that volunteer at SSR Hospice.  In writing this story I asked some of them to share their thoughts about why they volunteer.

Nancy, leader of our monthly therapy dog meetings wrote a very special poem about what her dog Stuart has taught her about hospice.  The part that especially moves me is:  “Sometimes it is about that golden moment when it is about anything else.  When Stuart prances in and goes to work, everything changes.  That golden moment of distraction, those with the least strength light up, lean forward, smile boldly and come fully to life…and it is a different world.  It is an overwhelming feeling and you can’t imagine it if you haven’t been there.”

Jayne said, “I realized it was very selfish of me to not share all the love and joy Magic has to give to others.” Magic is her standard poodle. She told me people often comment on what a big beautiful dog he is.  Jayne said, “Magic has changed more than one person’s mindset about “foo foo” poodles. When you meet Magic he is a regal, proud poodle. To know Magic is to truly experience the ‘magic’ love of a dog.”

The magic of all dogs in the environment of hospice is something one truly can’t grasp unless it is experienced.  For me, being a part of this community with Frankie, has me wanting to reach out more, to care more, and ultimately experience more golden moments because it is in those moments that the meaning of life comes full circle.
© Barbara Techel 2010
www.joyfulpaws.com

Barbara is the multi-award author of, Frankie, the Walk ‘N Roll Dog book series. She is an educator helping kids see their challenges in a positive way and also a passionate advocate for animals with disabilities. Barbara and Frankie routinely volunteer as a therapy dog team at local hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers.  Since 2005, Barbara has been a contributing writer for the Depot Dispatch sharing stories of her animals, as well as other furry friends she has met along the way.  You can visit Barbara and Frankie on at www.joyfulpaws.com

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