Pet therapy dogHosparus Health could not provide compassionate hospice and palliative care to our patients and families without our wonderful volunteers. We’re lucky to have so many of them who generously share their special skills, like those who are certified pet therapists.

Patients and families light up when they see a therapy dog enter a room. When a pet therapy team visits and they can pet the therapy animal or give a them treat, it makes everyone’s day!

To become a pet therapy volunteer, a person and their pet must be certified by a pet therapy organization. We currently partner with WAGS, Therapy Dogs International (TDI), Paws with PurposePet Love Inc. and Pawsibilities Unleashed. Each organization has different requirements, but generally speaking, pets must be friendly with other animals and people, pass a temperament test and have up-to-date vaccinations.

Volunteering with Hosparus Health has a few requirements as well, including attendance at one of our monthly orientation classes. During orientation, we go over information about Hosparus Health, boundaries, volunteer experiences, grief services and more. We also run a background check and require annual TB tests. We encourage our volunteers to commit to a minimum of 24 hours of service per year, or about 2 hours per month.

I recently talked with a few of our pet therapy volunteers (and their animals) to find out what volunteering means to them.

Hospice Pet TherapyBruce Vincent and his English Lab, Lily, are certified through WAGS. After the loss of his sister to stage 4 cancer several years ago, he wanted to give back to the community in a positive way and honor her memory. He has been volunteering with us since September 2018.

Who can benefit from pet therapy?
It has been medically proven all of us can benefit with interaction from these wonderful animals. Pet therapy animals make you feel happy and can relieve unwanted stress. Patients are very happy, peaceful, talkative and more energetic during our pet therapy visit.

What would you say to other pet therapists to encourage them to volunteer for us?
Hosparus Health shares all the same values of pet therapy — to enhance patients’ health, independence and quality of life.

Billy Zapp and his Alaskan Malamute, Major, are certified with Therapy Dogs International. They have been volunteering for about a year and half.

What do you do as a pet therapist?
We visit nursing homes. The visits brighten the resident’s day, and ours, too!

What do you do as a volunteer for Hosparus Health?
We visit a patient in their room or a common area such as a sitting room. I always talk to the patient. Major does, too. We visit each patient every two weeks.

Ann Duffin has been volunteering with Hosparus Health for about six years. She and her a pom/terrier mix, Luna, are certified with WAGS. She decided to volunteer to provide some comfort to people who may feel alone and to feel more connected to the community.

Pet therapy hospice dogWhat benefit do you see in our patients when you do pet therapy visits?
Somehow the presence of a dog just makes things better, if only for a moment. Petting the dog may also help with motion and exercise. It's also a great conversation starter. So many people can no longer have a dog, but they love talking about their dogs, and it often brings back pleasant memories. A dog can also be a good distraction, and it seems to give caregivers something else to focus on. When we do our visits, Luna will generally sit next to them while they pet or brush her. She'll occasionally do a trick (if she's in the mood☺), or get a treat.

Elaine Weisberg is certified through Paws with Purpose, which trains assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities and mobility issues. She brings several PWP dogs to visit with our patients during their training so they can get used to being out in the community. She has been volunteering with Hosparus Health for two years.

What would you say to other pet therapists to encourage them to volunteer for us?
It is so nice to watch the patient and staff connect with your dog. I always come away with a good feeling that I have made a difference to someone that day.

As you can see, our pet therapy volunteers get as much out of their experience with Hosparus Health as our patients and families! We are currently looking for more pet therapy volunteers. Pet therapy animals are not limited to dogs. Cats, rabbits, birds, and guinea pigs are welcome, too!

For more information, please contact Caitlin Gearhart at cgearhart@hosparus.org or 502-814-5422. You can also find more about all our volunteer opportunities here.