When Caldwell resident Irene Blumberg's Labrador Retriever passed away, she missed the sound of "pitter patters" in her house. It wasn't long until she adopted "Dusty," a little, gray-brindle Havanese puppy. For the past three years, the two have been volunteers in the Barnabas Health Hospice (BHH) Paws for Patients program.
The Barnabas Health Hospice Paws for Patients program was introduced in 2010 as a way to offer a unique therapeutic benefit: complimentary canine pet therapy visits for hospice patients and their families. Each Paws for Patients therapy team is comprised of a specially-trained hospice volunteer and a certified therapy dog. The teams visit patients at home or in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility.
When Irene and Dusty visit their assigned nursing home, Dusty first greets all the patients in wheelchairs. When Irene says "Paws up," Dusty gets up on his hind legs with his front paws on the wheelchair so patients can reach him.
Irene has also taught Dusty a few "award-winning" tricks, which are popular among patients. He wipes his face with his paws, settles on his side, rolls over, waves, dances in circles on his back legs and weaves in and out of Irene's legs. After each trick, he bows to the patients.
According to Laurie Berkman, Paws for Patients Program Coordinator, BHH, in a hospice setting, the companionship of a dog helps orient patients to the present moment, provides tactile stimulation and diminishes feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression. "A therapy dog assists in prompting patient memories, allowing them to recall life-affirming events," adds Laurie. "And, as empathic, non-judgmental 'listeners,' therapy dogs encourage the expression and release of grief and difficult emotions, providing a comfort that only our 'four-footed friends' can bring."
Even after several years, Irene and Dusty still love volunteering for Paws for Patients. "This is well worth it," says Irene. "It has been a rewarding experience to bring a little happiness to others, even if it's just for a brief moment."
For information about upcoming Paws for Patients volunteer training sessions for dog owners, or for more details regarding becoming involved in the Paws for Patients program, please contact Laurie Berkman at 973-322-4847or email@example.com or visit barnabashealth.org/pawsforpatients.