All paws on deck: HopeWest aims to add more therapy dogs to its care team
HopeWest aims to add more therapy dogs to its care team
Saturday morning, on the lawn outside Grand Junction’s HopeWest and Hospice Care Center, seven local dog owners tested their dogs in order to take a first step toward registering them as therapy dogs — a designation enabling them to visit with HopeWest patients and families.
Cathy Crim and Margie Kramer, volunteer dog testers with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, have been working for over a year with HopeWest to increase the number of therapy dogs available to the organization. On Saturday, they made a special trip to Grand Junction from their home base in Montrose in order to test several dogs at once.
The testing is intended to gauge the relationship between the owner — technically called the handler — and the dog.
“We want to see how the dog responds to the handler, and we want to see a connection,” Crim said.
The dogs must perform well through the testing, which includes walking on a short lead with the handler, making tight turns and responding to erratic stimuli, such as a person running or wobbling toward the dog, as may often happen in a hospital setting.
Therapy dogs are an invaluable addition to the service HopeWest can offer hospice and palliative care patients, said Laura Switzer, director of volunteer services for Hope- West.
Switzer said there are currently 15 to 20 registered therapy dogs available to the organization, but she doesn’t always have enough animals on hand to respond to all the calls she gets from patients requesting a dog.
She’s driven to get enough dogs tested and registered to never have to turn a patient down.
But it’s not only the patients who drive her, Switzer said. It’s also the volunteers who find meaning in the work they do with their dogs.
“I see the difference it makes in the volunteers’ lives,” Switzer said.
HopeWest relies heavily on volunteers. More than 1,400 people volunteer with the organization in a variety of capacities, whether baking cakes for patients on their birthdays or going out at the drop of a hat to take a therapy dog to a patient who’s slipping away — like volunteer Leslie Faudree did with her 4-year-old black lab Luna.
Faudree recalls a HopeWest patient who had requested a therapy dog but had a hard time petting or otherwise connecting with Luna during their visits due to the extent of the patient’s illness.
Then, one night, the patient’s social worker called Faudree and said it was unlikely the patient would survive until morning. Faudree and Luna made a special trip to see the patient, who initially wasn’t very responsive.
Yet, after a time, the patient reached her hand out and pet Luna on the head. She repeated the gesture three times during the visit.
A few hours after Faudree and Luna left, the patient died.
Faudree’s voice cracked with emotion as she recounted this story and similar ones with other patients. She started volunteering at HopeWest in November 2016, after she adopted Luna from the Roice-Hurst Humane Society.
Faudree said her father had a stroke last year, and it showed her the importance of adept caregiving.
“I saw how hospice helped him and helped me and my family, and I wanted to give that back,” she said.