Published on April 15, 2022
Hospice Patients and Families Love Their Pet Therapy Visits
Vicki Diestelkamp and her Golden Retriever mix Bayley are on a mission to spread love and joy where it’s needed most. For ten years, Vicki has been visiting Alive Hospice with her specially trained therapy dogs, bringing an extra dose of comfort and love to our patients and their families.
Studies have shown that, not only do dogs make most of us smile, they can also improve our health by releasing oxytocin, “the cuddle hormone,” decreasing stress, and just making us feel good!
“The best part for me is that you can’t lose…the staff loves seeing them, the patients, and even more so, the families. They are in an emotional twilight zone, and to be able to laugh and pet the dogs and really smile is a gift.”
Vicki and Bayley train hard and take exams every two years to meet therapy dog requirements. Therapy dogs and their handlers have a very special relationship with uncommonly high degrees of trust. The dogs need to be able to manage new situations, places and people without getting stressed.
They must learn not to react and to trust their handlers to protect them, especially if they are frightened or even handled a bit roughly, for example by a child or a dementia patient. The training is rigorous, but Vicki says the most important part is the dog’s natural personality. They need to want to do it.
“They have to want to do it. They can’t be shy or get nervous. Bayley is very confident but will let me know if there is a situation she is uncomfortable in. Ultimately, the owner is the protector and needs to be in close touch both physically and mentally with their dog all the time.”
“Bayley is incredibly smart and very watchful. She is so good with kids hugging and playing with her. She also knows what is needed in a given situation. During one visit she played with a little girl who was with her family, but noticed the mom was in a completely different place and just needed a chance to have Bayley sit quietly beside her and let the mom stroke her soft fur.
Bayley was in training to be a service dog with a local group, Retrieving Independence, and was chosen to be a mom due to her overall excellent temperament. As a service dog, she was being trained to alert someone if her person is having a seizure or diabetic episode, as well as daily mobility assistance, such as bringing water from the fridge, bringing the mail, and bringing the cell phone to the owner.
The service training is provided by Retrieving Independence, a local nonprofit that works with two local prisons for their service training, giving the prisoners an opportunity to enjoy unconditional love while building new skills.
Therapy Arc is the local affiliate of Intermountain Therapy Animals and provides the therapy training at the Farm at Natchez Trace to send certified teams into the community for loving encounters. Bayley has visited senior living centers and schools as well as Alive’s residences and grief camps for kids where she is always a fluffy guest of honor.
“Recently we visited a little boy here, and it was tough because I wasn’t expecting it, but you should have seen his face! Bayley did “paws up” on the edge of the bed so he could pet her, and it not only made him giggle and smile, but his parents just loved it. No matter what you do, somebody is getting joy out of it. A beautiful dog that wants to be there…it’s something good no matter the situation.”