For anyone that has owned animals, we know they are usually more than just pets. To most people, their pet becomes an integral part of their family dynamic. Now imagine you are a hospice patient and no longer able to care for your pet. You have lost one more valuable relationship, just as you need companionship the most.
One of our most prized volunteers, Shiner, is here to help fill the void. He is a five and a half year old, 60 pound, Silken Windhound partner at Central Oregon’s Heart ‘n Home Hospice and Palliative Care. Shiner is a trained and certified therapy dog. He and his owner, Jackie Koski, visit patients in care homes where residents have had to give up their own pets.
Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, dates back to the 1800’s. Florence Nightengale observed that patients exposed to animal companionship showed greatly reduced levels of anxiety and stress. Today we have documented studies showing the benefits of close companionship with pets on those at their end-of-life journey. Some of the documented physical benefits are reduced blood pressure, reduced pain and an increase in overall comfort. Emotional benefits include decreased loneliness, depression and anxiety.
Koski loves doing things with her dogs and wanted to share them with others. She received an email asking if she would be interested in pet therapy. “Before I knew it, I was working toward training my first therapy dog, Glacier, and attending a Heart ‘N Home training class for volunteers. I realized Shiner would love having a job also, so he went through obedience training and testing which he passed with flying colors.”
Shiner has had a special connection with one of his first patients. The patient was non-verbal. One day while Shiner was visiting, she decided to say a few words, “beautiful dog.” From then on, she would say a word or two whenever Shiner visited. Shiner brought new meaning and peace into her life.
What does Shiner love about his job? Shiner would say, “I love when my mom gets out my pet therapy vest and says, let’s go to work. I get excited to go to work because I know that I will get a lot of pats and hugs and a treat of Puppachino from Starbucks.”
For Koski, the visits have a deeper meaning. “My mother passed away from Pancreatic cancer. While caring for her, I realized there are so many people that could benefit from seeing a pet and having someone visit with them.”
Heart ‘n Home is fortunate to have these wonderful volunteers. To learn more about Volunteering with hospice, click here.