For Katie Anderson of Roxbury, NJ, there was no question when she brought her Goldendoodle Penny home four years ago that she had something special. "She was extremely calm and mild mannered," describes Katie, "and had such a sweet temperament. She was also so easy to train. It was like therapy work was second nature to her."
After her first birthday, Penny became a certified therapy dog and the duo began to donate their time to their local library where Penny would listen intently as children read her stories. Now, the pair serves as a therapy team for the Barnabas Health Hospice Paws for Patients canine therapy program, visiting individuals who reside in nursing homes.
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.
"We have worked with about fifteen patients and families since we began collaborating with Barnabas Health Hospice about two years ago," explains Katie, noting that one of her most memorable visits was to a vision-impaired patient. "Penny seemed to know instantly that he couldn't see her. She walked right over to him and nudged her head under his hand as if to say 'here I am'."
According to Laurie Berkman, Paws for Patients Program Coordinator, Barnabas Health Hospice, 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."
For information about upcoming Paws for Patients volunteer training sessions, or for more details regarding becoming involved in the
Paws for Patients program, please contact Laurie Berkman at 973-322-4847 or