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Hospice seeks four-legged volunteers

Growing demand for pet therapy

ThedaCare At Home Hospice provides pet therapy to help ease stress and anxiety among patients.

For that reason, ThedaCare Hospice Foundation provides funding for both the training of the animals and their handlers. It also covers the costs associated with training, insurance and dog vests with a photo of the dog.

“Through generous contributions, ThedaCare Hospice Foundation is pleased to provide funding for such a meaningful program in this community,” said Erin Tyink, regional development officer, ThedaCare Family of Foundations.

She said in the Waupaca and New London areas, the foundation approved more than $5,500 for the project in 2016.

“Research shows that pet therapy increases the feel good hormones and decreases the stress hormone, while providing decreased heart rates, reduced anxiety, feelings of loneliness and incidences of depression,” she said. “Empirically, we also know that pet therapy brings a welcome change of routine to hospice patients and their families. We hear patients ask for ‘their’ therapy dog and family members note that their loved ones open up during and after visits.”

The demand for therapy dogs at ThedaCare At Home Hospice is growing.

“Patients and families love the companionship they receive from a dog and their handler,” said Sarah Lederer, ThedaCare At Home. “It offers a unique visit that brings back pleasant memories of a patient’s own pets, and many smiles. At present we have 14 teams, and due to the increasingly popularity of the dog visits, we are looking for more teams to help.”

Molly Johnson, owner and consultant with Canine Comfort, agreed.

“A hospice therapy dog team brings joy, comfort and support to patients of all ages,” said Johnson. “Scientific studies show therapy dog visits reduce stress, alleviate pain, increase social interactions and improve overall quality of life.”

Comprehensive therapy dog training and registration will begin in August and is provided at no cost to the handler by Johnson.

Interested pet therapy volunteers should have interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate with many different people.

They will also need to complete the 12 hours of hospice volunteer training.

“Hospice therapy dogs can be any breed or size but must be very calm, gentle and love people of all ages,” said Johnson. “They must be comfortable around medical equipment and walking on different surfaces. Dogs must be a minimum of a year old and be able to consistently and calmly greet people with all four paws touching the ground, walk politely on a four-foot leash and have a well-developed relationship with their handler. Formal training is not required but the use of positive reinforcement training techniques is very important.”

People may learn more about pet therapy by contacting Johnson at 920-716-1890 or by emailing her at [email protected].

Those interested in becoming a volunteer for ThedaCare At Home Hospice may call Lederer at 920-716-2783 or email her at [email protected].

People may also help support the continued financial needs by making a gift online at thedacare.org/donate or sending a contribution to ThedaCare Family of Foundations, 1818 N. Meade St., Appleton, WI 54911, and indicating “Pet Therapy,” and the location to restrict the funding to, in the memo line.

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