By Jan Lindsay
DANVERS — One of the things I adore about dogs is their unconditional love.
After my husband Andy died on Care Dimensions’ hospice service at home in October 2020, our dogs Rufus and Grizzly Bear helped me cope with my loss. In exchange for companionship and food, they radiated positive energy that provided doses of relief from my painful grief.
Now I’m happy to help other hospice patients and their caregivers as a Care Dimensions volunteer pet visitor. Rufus and I visit patients and their families at the Kaplan Family Hospice House once a week.
Pet visitors bring comfort
Having been a caregiver for Andy, I understand the importance of providing relief for caregivers. Andy survived six years after his lung cancer diagnosis. I learned there are waves of emotion that come with being a caregiver for someone with advanced illness. You need to adapt your life lovingly. You also may feel isolated and afraid of burdening others.
If you’re a person who likes dogs, they can help you get through this difficult time, as mine did for me. Dogs bring that love drug into the room without needing to do much, and I see how they can be comforting to patients and family members.
After Andy died, I found myself in a strange and foreign land; there was no roadmap and few people in my friend circle who shared my experience of loss. I learned to cope, made a lot of mistakes, and with time, emerged a stronger person. In large part I owe it to the love and comfort of my dogs.
As a new widow, I didn’t know what “the new me” would look like. I wanted to use my experience as a caregiver to comfort other people who are dealing with a serious illness and the prospect of loss.
Becoming a hospice volunteer
An acquaintance who volunteers with her dog at the Care Dimensions Hospice House in Lincoln helped me get started. She recommended I have Rufus complete AKC Good Citizen training, which fulfills Care Dimensions’ pet visiting dog training requirement. For more info visit: https://www.caredimensions.org/volunteers/Pet-Visitors.cfm)
In March 2022, I completed the Care Dimensions online volunteer training. For more info visit: https://www.caredimensions.org/volunteers/training-and-support.cfm
I am a retired school nurse and am comfortable with Care Dimensions’ COVID-19 precautions, which protect both me and our patients, but still allow me to introduce Rufus to patients and caregivers who could benefit from his visits.
Rufus is a 55-pound black Labrador Retriever who brings positive energy wherever he goes. People like to pet him. He’s too big to jump on the bed, so often he rests on the floor next to me, or if a person wants to give him a treat, I’ll put one in their hand and Rufus will gently lap it up. Recently, I did that with a non-verbal patient. When Rufus took the treat, I could see a flicker of a smile on the patient’s face. Her daughter noticed it, too, and I was pleased that Rufus brought a moment of comfort for them both.
Sometimes when Rufus and I enter a room, the patient is sleeping, and a family member is present. I’ll sit near the family member and let Rufus and them find each other. The simple act of petting Rufus exchanges energy. As a certified Reiki instructor, I know that a loving positive energy transfer between two beings can yield comfort, which is exactly what Rufus brings to caregivers and patients.
When a family member tells me that Rufus and I made a difference in their day and the patient’s day, that makes me feel good. Knowing that we’ve helped lighten their psychic load feels like a gift. Rufus and I are still new to this, but I can tell at the end of each visit that he’s eager to learn and meet more patients and families. So am I.
Learn more about becoming a volunteer pet visitor for Care Dimensions at:
About the author
Jan Lindsay is a hospice pet visitor volunteer with Care Dimensions. She also is a certified Reiki instructor and plans to offer Reiki to Care Dimensions patients. She resides in Ipswich.