Hospice work provides a wonderful opportunity to share time with individuals who are in their final stages of life. People are accepted into a hospice program if they are terminally ill and have less than six months to live. They are often placed in a hospital or nursing home setting but some do live at home.
TDI is able to make a tremendous difference to any hospice program by providing comfort, love and companionship through the use of our dogs. Our goal is to enrich the quality of life for the hospice patient and often their families as well. The sight of our dogs and the touch of their fur often brings peace and joy to those patients whose life once included animals. Physical contact has a calming effect and dogs have the ability to bring back pleasant memories of a person's life. Therapy dogs help combat loneliness and they give people the chance to have something to look forward to. Exposure to our dogs allows the patient to feel needed and wanted at a time in their life when death is evident.
Through training and experience, Therapy Dogs become part of the Hospice team. Not all handlers or dogs are suitable for this aspect of therapy work. It is up to the handler to determine if this is the population they and their dog are comfortable working with.
While working with a hospice program, dogs learn to be able to sense the process an individual goes through with death. Signs may include a change in breathing, restlessness or possible disorientation. In addition to the patient, dogs and handlers often have the ability to comfort family members including children. Handlers must recognize if it's appropriate to stay or excuse themselves when the end is near. There are times when the family may request that the therapy dog lay by the end of the bed during the patient's final moments of life. This might be because the patient loved dogs and the sight of the dog brings a sense of normalcy for not only the patient but the family as well.
Being part of a hospice team is a powerful and inspirational experience for a TDI member. It is a benefit for us to be able to bring comfort to people through our dogs.