Several years ago, a patient was readmitted to Hospice Austin’s Christopher House late on a Friday afternoon. When he had been there before, he’d met Hospice Austin volunteer Rusty and her therapy dog, Faraday, a loving one-eyed white lab. As soon as this patient was wheeled into Christopher House on a gurney – before he even got to his room – he was asking for Faraday: “Where’s the dog? I need to see the dog.” Hospice Austin’s volunteer coordinator ran to call Rusty who immediately said, “I’m on my way.” She and Faraday drove across town and the patient was able to spend time with Faraday. He died two hours later.
Hospice Austin’s Christopher House is fortunate enough to have a therapy dog and his or her owner visit nearly every day of the week. Our current therapy dogs include golden retrievers Halle, Abner, Martha, and Sonny; a small black mix named Teddy; and two Great Pyrenees named Charmin and Paxton. The dogs bring immeasurable comfort to patients and families.
Often the dogs will spark conversations with patients and families about pets they have known and loved. Volunteer May Latson recalls a particular day when she and her dog, Halle, went into a room at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House with a patient and his family. Halle sat at the foot of the bed and the patient, who hadn’t spoken for several days, sat up and said “Ginger” and smiled. He lay back down and his son explained that Ginger had been their family’s wonderful Golden Retriever and his dad’s favorite.
“It was a special moment for all of us,” May recalled. “Halle and I stayed with them for a long time while they told stories of their dad and Ginger.”
May said that Halle takes her responsibilities with the patients and their families seriously. She gives it her all and is tired by the end of her shift. Fortunately, the Hospice Austin’s Christopher House staff have delectable treats waiting for all the therapy dogs when they are finished working.
Some of the dogs who visit Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, like Martha and Abner, are extensively-trained comfort dogs provided by the
Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog program. These are working animals trained to interact with people of all ages and circumstances who are suffering. Many of the other dogs who visit Hospice Austin’s Christopher House, like Sonny, started their lives as beloved pets whose owners noticed they possessed a special sensitivity to those in need.
Lorie Schlichte, Sonny’s owner, said it was actually Hospice Austin nurses and aides who suggested that Sonny would make a good therapy dog, while visiting their home to care for Lorie’s mother-in-law, Betty Gray, who was suffering from cancer. After Betty died, Lorie had Sonny evaluated, trained and certified by Therapy Pet Pals of Texas.
“Sonny and I really like being a distraction for patients, their families and staff at Christopher House,” Lorie said. “Just to pet, hug and love on a dog is a wonderful thing to do to take your mind off of the reality of what’s happening. And for us, it’s the best way to say thank you and give back to Hospice Austin for all their support with Betty.”