Sweet Lily has a new friend, a longtime English Setter person who is now on hospice care. When Lily entered her room, the connection between the two was immediate.
Lily very gently laid her head on the edge of the woman’s bed right next to her hand. As the woman began stroking Lily’s head and ears, she remarked, Oh, just looking at those markings, those beautiful English Setter markings. So striking! There’s nothing like an English Setter…. and so the conversation flowed. All the while, her daughter stood at the foot of her mother’s bed, and the two spoke to Lily and me about the wonderful English Setters in their lives.
Lily glanced up at me, waiting for my signal… should she jump up on the bed and lie alongside her new friend or lie on the floor.
Sensing Lily’s desire for direction, I whispered, “No,” then gave her a signal to lie by my feet. With this, the daughter asked her mother if she wanted to see the dog better… No, replied her mother, just feeling Lily’s presence here in the room with me makes me feel so good.
After about 15 minutes, I could tell our new friend was tiring, her eyelids starting to shut as she spoke. As a longtime hospice volunteer, I know the importance of knowing when to cut the visit short or to stay longer.
I touched our new friend’s hand and quietly said that Lily and I would be on our way now. She opened her eyes wide and said, Thank you for bringing your beautiful English Setter to visit me. You have made me so happy.
Daughter, mother, and I made the plan that I would return next week, this time bringing King, my orange Belton boy. With this plan made our new friend smiled, then closed her eyes.
These visits came about through an email I received a week ago from the daughter who had read an article in the Hampshire Daily Gazette several years ago about my English Setter James and me visiting folks at a local nursing home. The subject line of her email read, Do you still make therapy dog visits with your English Setters? This came in at the end of the day when I was just about to shut down my laptop. Of course, seeing English Setters in the subject line prompted me to open the email and read more… Would I be willing to visit her mother who is on hospice? I read. She loves English Setters and has had them for years. This did it. I was in, and plans were made.
Six years ago, my wonderful English Setter James and I made weekly hospice visits at an area facility. Over a three-year period, we had several long-term hospice patients who loved James’ visits…. being comforted by this gentle dog to their dying days.
I can’t explain the feeling that swept over me as I watched my special dog at work, providing a quiet, gentle presence only a dog can give. Our time together with hospice patients was the most moving and rewarding therapy dog work I have done over the past 25 years. These people know they are in their final months or days… the dog’s presence offering something no one else can give. The rush of joy I feel watching my dog make someone so happy is utterly surreal. Visiting our new friend brought back these memories.
Hospice visiting is hard work for therapy dogs. When James became too old to continue, and our current group of patients had passed on, we both retired from hospice work.
Until now, I haven’t felt my current dogs were ready for this very intense type of therapy dog work. Lily proved she’s ready. We’ll see how King does next week. I’m ready, too.