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Pet Therapy: Bringing Happiness, Comfort and Smiles to Hospice Patients

Pet therapy is one of the additional services many of our hospice agencies offer. Interacting with a friendly pet can help with any possible physical and mental issues. Pet interaction also helps produce a calming feeling, which can alleviate pain and reduce stress. Heartland Hospice serving Central Wisconsin has been utilizing pet volunteers since October 2012 when the agency first began caring for hospice patients.

Pet therapy can be especially helpful in a hospice patient’s care journey because pet visitors help patients recall memories of their own pets or other animals they love. Pet visits help brighten patients’ days, bring smiles to their faces and bring a sense of comfort and love when patients have the opportunity to pet and interact with the animal(s).

Our pet therapy volunteers truly enjoy visiting with patients and find it rewarding to be able to hear touching stories about patients’ pets. Kim, a pet therapy volunteer, began volunteering with her dog, Joy, after she lost her mom. “I felt like I needed to fill my time doing something positive. The smiles and the hugs my patients give to Joy help brighten my day, too. I feel like I was able to have such a positive impact on their care simply by spending time with them.”

Shelly, another pet therapy volunteer, immediately knew her dog, Darla, would be a great fit for a pet therapy dog when she adopted her at six months old. “Her calm and gentle nature was a perfect match. My first experience with Heartland was when an immediate family member needed hospice care. Right then, I knew I wanted to become involved with Heartland. I have always been involved with our local humane society, so I put my love for animals and my compassion for people together and joined the pet therapy team.” Shelly and Darla do even more volunteer work by visiting schools to read with children and by visiting skilled and assisted living facilities to help residents with projects and other activities. “What has been most meaningful to me is just seeing how happy people are when they get to see Darla. They receive her unconditional love and attention. They could be having a bad day or feeling lonely, but when they see her come through the door, their day is made!”

Because pet therapy has become an important part of many patients’ lives, patients still get to spend 15-20 minutes interacting with the animals and the volunteers during these difficult times. To ensure patients can continue their pet therapy visits, volunteers and their pets have been visiting with patients virtually or outside their windows.

For more information on pet therapy or our hospice services, please contact our agency.