Sue Serena and Cooper

Sue Serena and Cooper

Cooper, a seven-year-old Golden Doodle, was just over two when his owner Eleanor Dupont, died of lung cancer. An obedient and well-trained dog, Mrs. Dupont was planning on making visits to the elderly with Cooper because she knew he had the temperament to make a difference in peoples' lives. When Mrs. Dupont passed away in 2007, Cooper found a great new home with her daughter, Sue Serena of Caldwell, NJ. He joined her husband, two daughters, a 100 pound Bloodhound, a cat and a rabbit.

Cooper did indeed have a special rapport with people, and in March, 2011, Sue had him certified as a therapy dog with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc. He and Sue now work as volunteers with Paws for Patients, a program of Barnabas Health Hospice.

"Cooper is smart, social and in tune with people," says Sue, who brings him to see 4-6 hospice patients at an assisted living facility near her home every Sunday in the afternoon. "Before we go I brush him and he gets so excited because he knows our routine. He jumps in the car, anxious to see people. Sometimes we even make it for one of his favorite events -- an afternoon ice cream social!"

The Paws for Patients program was launched in 2009 by the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center to further enhance its mission of caring for patients not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. The therapeutic use of dogs in the health care setting has been proven to help orient patients, especially those with dementia, to the present moment. Dogs decrease anxiety, reduce feelings of isolation and even lower blood pressure in some patients. According to Laurie Berkman, Program Coordinator for Paws for Patients, "The presence of a therapy dog often prompts pleasant reminiscences which helps patients engage in therapeutic 'life review' which is especially beneficial at end-of life."

While Cooper has his head on a patient's lap and is enjoying the gentle petting, Sue converses with the patient and any family members who may be visiting. "Pet therapy gives me a unique opening to talk to patients and find out how their day is going," explains Sue. "I believe it is something to make their time a little better."

A full-time accountant, Sue explains that she does pet therapy with Cooper in memory of her mother, who would be so pleased that she and Cooper are doing this type of work. In the process, Sue has reaped the rewards. "I've gotten attached to people," she reflects, "and I enjoy my time visiting hospice patients with Cooper. It is a wonderful way for us to spend our weekend together and bring comfort and joy to others."