Anyone who has owned animals knows they are usually more than just pets. To most people, a pet becomes an integral part of their family dynamic. But, imagine that 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 Volunteers, Jackie Koski has a long history of serving along with her two special dogs. Because of her service, she was chosen as our Volunteer of the Quarter. Before COVID stopped our Volunteer visits, Jackie and her dogs touched the lives of so many. Here’s her story.
Jackie Koski loves doing things with her dogs and wanted to share them with others. After being asked if she would be interested in pet therapy, she said, “Before I knew it, I was working toward training my first therapy dog, Glacier, a Whippet. I attended a Heart ‘n Home Volunteer Training and realized Shiner would also love having a job. Both Glacier and Shiner went through obedience training and testing with flying colors.”
Patients feel surprise and joy when Volunteers, Jackie and Shiner, come into their room. Shiner is a five-and-a-half-year-old, 60-pound Silken Windhound. He comes along with Jackie to help fill a void. Shiner is trained by Jackie and certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a national organization.
Jackie’s mother passed away from pancreatic cancer and caring for her helped her realize there are so many people that could benefit from seeing a pet and having someone visit them consistently. Jackie says, “Volunteering with hospice has touched my heart because I see how patients are treated like individuals and more “humanized.” Our nurses truly love the patients and it shows with patients having their pain managed along with all the services to them including a social worker and spiritual care provider.” She shares that she knows as a Volunteer, she is able to bring a higher level of affirming life to patients.
Jackie shares that Shiner had a special connection with one of her first patients, who was non-verbal. One day while Shiner was visiting, the patient said two words, “beautiful dog.” From then on, the patient spoke a word or two whenever Jackie and Shiner came to see her. These visits brought new meaning and peace into her life.
“The atmosphere of the entire facility brightens up when Jackie comes in to visit. She has an amazing way of greeting every person in the hallways and takes time to engage the residents. She is never rushed, listens with interest, and answers all kinds of questions about the dogs with patience and love. When you see Jackie in the facility, you know she is sharing the love of her dogs out of true compassion in her soul. This is not a job for her, it is a calling. Her visits help the entire facility staff when she spends time in Memory Care because it calms and entertains the residents.” Shannon Palmer, from Prairie House Assisted Living Facility shares. She continues, ” The Memory Care Unit is a place where Jackie and the dogs can mingle with all of the patients at one time. No one is left out and Jackie shows true compassion for residents that do not always communicate easily. I can tell the dogs love the attention and are very present due to Jackie’s dedication to their training. Her dogs are beautiful and well-loved.”
“I’ve also learned to get to know patients on a one-on-one basis and figure out what they like,” Jackie tells. Jackie feels that through visiting with patients, you can find out what is important to people that are no longer able to get out. “One of my patients loved cats.” Even though the patient was in Memory Care and not very verbal, she took pictures of cats with her on visits. She brought in a stuffed cat for a companion and she and the patient had conversations about cats.
Another patient loved talking about horses. “We looked at her photo albums with horses in it and I took in pictures and coloring books with horses in them.” Jackie looked forward to these visits each week. “Memory Care Unit is fun because people really respond to the dogs. The dogs help patients come to life and make it easier to open up and share what their passion is.”
One of Jackie’s favorite things about volunteering in hospice is the smiles and greetings she gets when entering a patients’ room. “Their eyes light up when they see Shiner or Glacier. It is a huge reward when a non-verbal patient utters a few words to the dogs. The dogs love the attention.”
Jackie notes she has developed deeper compassion for the senior citizens of our community. Validation of them and their needs are very important to her. She strongly believes they are still a vital part of the community and the world.
Jackie says, “Volunteering for hospice has given me a better understanding of how important it is to the patient to have someone be there for them and only them. It is important to be the “someone” the patients share their stories and memories with. I love to hear their stories.” Jackie has also learned to be patient and compassionate.
Jackie has demonstrated her commitment through her ongoing visits to patients, joining in office and community events, becoming an 11th Hour Volunteer, and promoting volunteering and hospice care.
When Volunteer Coordinator, Theresa Hane, requested 11th Hour Volunteers, Jackie stepped up immediately. This enables her to go into homes and facilities to stay with patients during their final hours of life. “We had a patient that needed an 11th Hour Volunteer to sit with them on a moment’s notice. Jackie not only went within minutes but stayed until late at night until the nurse arrived.” Hane says, “I know I can rely on Jackie to take the difficult, last-minute cases, which is very comforting.”
When COVID-19 broke out, Jackie was one of the first Volunteers to put her sewing machine to work. She had not sewed in a long time but started making masks immediately, using a pattern given out by our local hospital. She joined a Facemask-Making Facebook group and got busy. Jackie picked up fabric and distributed masks around town at drop off points where there was strict social distancing. These masks were a benefit to our staff, patients, families and other healthcare workers. The most recent masks include a headband that has a better fit for long visits.
Jackie has expanded her volunteering by working at the local Community Kitchen serving people in need and tracking sales on the computer. She helps in the “closet” sorting and putting on display donated clothes for local people at no cost. “There was no one else that knew how to use the computer, so I felt like I should step in. It is a different kind of serving and rewarding to connect with many people in our community.”
Heather and Jeff joined the team of Heart ‘n Home Volunteers because of Jackie’s example and inspiration to them. Heather says, “When I first met Jackie, it was very clear that we both shared a love for dogs and the sports that go with them. It was on our second meeting, where we met so she could show me the ropes of doing pet therapy at the Prairie House, that I saw the commitment she has for volunteerism. ”
“Clearly, volunteering with seniors ‘fills Jackie’s cup’,” states Heather. “I also know she has established a great relationship with Prairie House Assisted Living Facility regarding pet therapy. This relationship has built trust, making it easier for those who follow her to successfully use our dogs to make people happy in assisted living facilities. Jackie is one of a kind and I think we are all lucky to know her.
It is with great admiration, that we recognize Jackie for her service towards our patients.
Heart ‘n Home is always looking for Volunteers that can help fill a need with our patients. Volunteers offer companionship, help pick up and deliver medications, relieve caregivers when they need to run a few errands, and help in so many other ways. Our Volunteers become an integral part of our hospice team. If you would like to make a difference in your community, visit our website to learn more.