Poppy is a one-and-a-half year old, snow white, soul eyed, Maltese. He weighs less than seven pounds and is one of the sweetest, most intuitive puppies you will ever meet. When he visits the Yolo Hospice office with his parent, Stephanie Makis, MSW, he greets everyone with unbridled enthusiasm. What makes him unique is Poppy’s sensitive care and friendship with Yolo Hospice patients. Through Poppy and six other dogs, Yolo Hospice provides pet assisted therapy.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”right” cite=”Sheila, Yolo Hospice patient”]It is soothing to have a little creature cuddle up to you[/pullquote2]
“It is soothing to have a little creature cuddle up to you,” said Shelia, a Yolo Hospice patient. “Poppy is a well-behaved boy. It is calming to have him sit in my lap and pet him. It just feels good.”
Animals love unconditionally. They have few expectations and are not critical of your performance as a host. Poppy can often bridge gaps and help build bonds between patients and Yolo Hospice team members. Numerous studies have documented that pet therapy reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and can affect many patients by allowing them to relax when it has seemed impossible. These special pet therapists are affectionate, provide comfort, and offer a sincere, gentle touch, which can be in short supply for those at the end of life.
[pullquote2 quotes=”true” align=”left” cite=”Stephanie, a Yolo Hospice social worker”]I don’t think Shelia was sure about hospice, until she heard about Poppy. Now she uses just about all the Yolo Hospice team services available to her.[/pullquote2]
Yolo Hospice has seven pet therapy animals in its program, including Poppy. Social workers facilitate health services and make heart-to-heart connections with patients. “I don’t think Shelia was sure about hospice, until she heard about Poppy,” said Stephanie. “Now she uses just about all the Yolo Hospice team services available to her. It has been wonderful for both Poppy and me to get to know her. Poppy is on her lap most of the time during our visits.”
It is heartwarming to watch Shelia tease about how she intends to keep Poppy with her all the time. You can hear Sheila’s laugh ring out. She’s even given Stephanie tricks to teach Poppy. Stephanie refers to learning the tricks as her homework assignments.
The other six dogs who serve as pet therapy animals, Maggie, Abby, Rosie, Jake, Lola, and Bosco the Wonder Dog, live with Yolo Hospice volunteers. Yolo Hospice volunteers who have their animals in the pet therapy program are devoted to it and particularly committed to Yolo Hospice patients. Their commitment includes completing the Yolo Hospice’s training for patient care volunteers. In addition, they take their dogs through training and certification as pet therapy animals and update that certification annually.
Yolo Hospice is especially fortunate to benefit from the skills and knowledge that Linda Wendorff generously donates to the pet therapy program. Linda is a tester for dogs, certifying their readiness as pet therapy animals. She is also the Yolo Hospice Pet Therapy Program Advisor.
“Linda has been invaluable in helping train, certify and guide us in setting up and getting the pet therapy program active,” said Nancy Bodily, Volunteer Services Manager and Coordinator of the Yolo Hospice Pet Therapy Program. “She even volunteers her time to take her own pet therapy dogs out to visit patients.”
Pet therapy animals are gentle and mellow, not easily startled. Still, pet therapy animals are not for everyone. As the Yolo Hospice team gets to know the patient, and believe a patient would benefit from pet therapy visits, the option is discussed with the patient and loved ones. The patient or family member can also ask to be included in the program. Similar to all other Yolo Hospices support services, there is no charge to anyone included in the program.
“We’re pleased when any of our patients can benefit from the presence of these loving animals in their lives,” said Nancy. “It is particularly rewarding to be there when one of these animals goes into a senior living or nursing facility to visit one of our patients. Twenty additional people benefit from that one visit. As soon as the dog walks through the door, you can see that it brightens the day for people who enjoy animals.”
For information on getting your animal certified as a pet therapy animal in Yolo Hospice’s program or other services, please call 530-758-5566.