Hospice volunteer work going to the dogs

CONTRIBUED Pictured is Boo, one of Niagara Hospice's volunteer dogs. Boo visits with Hospice patients to brighten their days and provide a sense of comfort that only a dog can offer. Holding Boo is Hospice volunteer Peg Stevenson.

Everyone who’s ever had a dog knows that sometimes it's our four-legged friends who bring us the most comfort in difficult times.

That’s why Niagara Hospice works to provide its patients with the small but powerful benefit of having a furry companion around to pet, snuggle with or feed them treats.

According to Hospice Volunteer Services Coordinator Melissa Harris, giving patients a chance to enjoy some time with a dog can lower blood pressure and increase awareness. In some patients, the presence of dogs can also increase communication abilities and decrease feelings of loneliness or anxiety.

“I’ve always had animals in my home so I know that it makes a huge difference,” said Harris. “We hear a lot of stories about the impact of the pets on our patients. It just has a calming effect on everyone. It is very touching to see the difference it makes to our patients.”

Harris said coming up with ways to help their patients interact with animals is a matter of quality of life. There are two ways Hospice works with animals to improve enhance quality of life for the clients, by working with trained volunteers to bring dogs (who are also trained) to the patient’s homes or the facility where they are staying.

While the dogs are with the patients, they may cuddle up on their lap, perform tricks or simply sit an enjoy some attention. In return, the patients get to enjoy the feeling of having a pet, something they may not be able to do either due to their residence or being unable to care for them due to their medical condition.

Volunteers bring their dogs to Hospice’s facilities to visit with patients, as well as to patients homes, Harris said. Volunteers and their dogs are required to complete training to ensure the safety of the patients.

In addition to their pet visit program, Hospice also participates in Pet Peace of Mind, a national program which aims to help patients pets stay in their homes throughout the duration of their owners’ care.

Volunteers who help carry out this program are trained to care for animal and will pick up after dogs and cats, purchase food or supplies for patients, which is covered in part by grant funding. They also can take pets to and from veterinary appointments.

“For the Pet Peace of Mind program, we definitely in need of more (volunteers),” Harris said. “They have to go through the volunteer training here even if they’re certified somewhere else. We also can always use more people who are willing to do pet visits, but then again they have to also have a certified animal.”

Volunteers are always needed for both programs, especially the Pet Peace of Mind Program, which requires a training program that can be completed at the Erie County SPCA. Those interested in volunteering can start out as a regular volunteer and then apply to be a pet volunteer.

For more information or to become a volunteer, visit Niagara Hospice online at www.niagarahospice.org.

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