Dotty Ostella and Haley

Dotty Ostella and Haley

After only a few moments talking with Dorothy "Dotty" Ostella, it is clear that animals are her passion. The Verona resident not only volunteers with her 10-year-old Corgi, Haley, with the Barnabas Health Hospice (BHH) Paws for Patients canine therapy program, but recently spent her family vacation traveling to Utah's Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at Angel Canyon to volunteer her time caring for homeless cats and dogs.

Dotty, who became involved with Paws for Patients through Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc., the organization which certifies dogs working with BHH patients and families, has been volunteering with Haley for more than seven years – the last year with Paws for Patients. "I actually got involved in pet therapy about 18 years ago," she adds. "At that time, I was volunteering with my cat."

When describing her work with Paws for Patients Dotty explains that, "Haley and I are often there as a support to the family members of a dying patient. The pair typically visits one-to-two patients each week. "You can see so clearly that Haley is a glimmer of light in the day of those we are visiting," she adds. "It is almost as if she is absorbing the grief."

In addition to her role as a hospice volunteer, managing a full-time job and juggling the demands of a family, Dotty also committed herself to helping southern Utah's Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at Angel Canyon. In 2011, Dotty, her husband, Ralph, and their 21-year-old son, Steven, spent three days at Best Friends helping to care for dogs and cats.

Home to about 2,000 dogs, cats and other animals who have come from shelters and rescue groups around the country, Best Friends has been a safe haven for countless homeless animals. While there, the Ostella family took on many tasks, but perhaps none as meaningful as the night they spent with Jager – a female Pit Bull/Black Lab mix who was a Hurricane Katrina survivor.

Part of the role of a Best Friends volunteer is to help socialize animals who are preparing to be placed up for adoption. "We had the privilege of taking Jager back to our hotel with us for the night," describes Dotty. "There is one word to describe her – love. It was such a wonderful experience, but perhaps one of the most difficult things we have ever done as a family was taking her back to Best Friends the following day. We know they will find her a wonderful home, but walking away from Jager, after spending so much time together, was heart wrenching."

As Dotty reflects on the time she and her family spent at Best Friends, and discusses the impact Haley has on the hospice patients and families she visits, she is moved by the transformative power dogs can have on our lives, especially on those with advanced illness. "I have witnessed so many moments between dogs and people that have taken my breath away," she says. "It is such a special and unique relationship. I am grateful to have discovered it and to be a part of bringing that happiness to others."