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Hospice looking for pet volunteers

Volunteer Pat Bettendorf and his therapy dog Jake work with Lakeview Hospice to visit patients in hospice care in their homes. Lakeview is looking for more therapy pet volunteers. Submitted photo

When they lay their heads down on a lap, ears ready and waiting to be pet, dogs bring a unique sort of comfort. They inspire a serenity of just being in the moment, or perhaps a trip down memory lane. They don't ask questions, or say the wrong thing.

A visit from a dog can be a great comfort at any point in life, and especially welcome for those facing the end of their life, Lakeview Hospice has found. The program works with therapy pets and their human volunteers to provide calming visits to hospice patients.

"It provides the comfort they need, it lifts their spirits without saying a word," Lakeview Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Kuckler said.

Lakeview Hospice is looking for more therapy pets, and their owners, to volunteer to make these visits to hospice patients throughout St. Croix and Washington counties.

"It's a huge request with our hospice patients," Kuckler said.

Pet therapy visits help address the physical, emotional and spiritual piece of a patient's being, Kuckler said.

Many patients are anxious about some component of end of life, Kuckler said, and dogs seem to pick up on that.

"Their calmness and their ability to just provide that presence, that nonstressful presence that an animal brings," Kuckler said. "I am just forever amazed at the comfort that a pet will bring into a patient in hospice."

The visits help with patients who may feel isolated. Dogs can bring out conversations, prompting memories of pets the patients had throughout their life.

"People have stories, and anyone who ever had a dog in their life can recall with great fondness what that is about and just the comfort it brought," Kuckler said.

Dogs often have a sense for people that are struggling, Kuckler said, and can help soothe that feeling.

"At a really tough time in your life, that is a really welcome visit," Kuckler said.

Pet therapy has been a part of the Lakeview Hospice for several years, Kuckler said, and now they're looking for new faces to join the team.

The program benefits from having a large group to call on, as visits often aren't scheduled more than a few days ahead of time.

"It's nice if we have the luxury of a few pet therapy owners that we can talk to and see who's available so that it isn't stressful for anyone," Kuckler said.

Lakeview Hospice serves patients in private homes, care centers, hospice facilities or wherever they are.

"It's wherever they call home," Kuckler said.

Volunteers and their pets often visit people in their last days, bringing the calm comfort of a dog to the patient's bedside.

Volunteer dogs should be certified as therapy dogs through an official organization, at least 2 years old, and calm and obedient. Currently the program only has dogs, though Kuckler said she'd be open to other pets if they were certified.

Human volunteers will go through 20 hours of hospice training, free of charge, to understand the process of end of life care.

"It's a journey we will all take. It's important to provide the companionship and the care that people need at the end of life and have an understanding of that," Kuckler said.

More than anything, Kuckler said they are looking for people who have empathy and understanding.

"Probably the biggest piece to the whole program is that caring spirit," she said.

To volunteer or learn more, contact Kuckler at 651-275-8255 or nancy.s.kuckler@lakeview.org.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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