At Holy Cross we are entering into 2020 “Belonging, Believing, and Bearing Fruit in Jesus.” That Bearing fruit takes place well beyond Sunday mornings. It happens outside of congregational programs. As we head together toward our shared vision of “Leading with Loving Service to bring the Spokane Community Closer to Christ” we each have unique ways that we can do so. Sharing those can encourage others. Take a look at how Alan is doing that. I’m guessing you'll find it as encouraging as I do.
When Pastor Mike asked me to write this article, I think he understood the vital role our two pet therapy dogs have played in the lives of my late wife Roberta and I. Our Labradoodle, Sadie, was a weekly Hospice volunteer for 11 years, “retiring” a year ago. Mocha, our 2-yr old Goldendoodle, began pet therapy about a year ago and has served clients in Hospice, hospitals, and cancer clinic environments.
Our interest in pet therapy began as Sadie finished “puppy kindergarten” class and started through the American Kennel Club “Canine Good Citizen” training. Roberta and I were both retired then and Sadie had a disposition that was too kind and calm to just be a house dog. And we were looking for meaningful ways to spend retirement time together. Sadie was just over a year old when we completed the Pet Partner training; Roberta and I then completed the Hospice volunteer training. At the same time, Hospice of Spokane opened the south-hill Hospice House and we immediately began working a weekly “shift” there. We expanded our volunteer time when the second Hospice House opened in north Spokane.
“Pet therapy” is part of what is called “palliative care,” which is defined as “relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition.” In other words, bringing comfort without medication. I think pet therapy is part of what Paul meant in 2 Cor 1:3 where he wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort . . .”
There is something about the presence and physical touch of an animal that can help relieve physical, mental and relational pain. On one occasion we were present during the passing of a young woman whose extended family were gathered in a “quiet room” at Hospice House. We took Sadie into the room, removed her leash (yes, this is against normal procedure) and simply let her wander from person to person, tail wagging slowly and eyes lifted upward as family members stroked her.
On a lighter note, Mocha and I recently visited a pre-school boy in the Pediatric Ward of a local hospital. He was very alert and immediately moved to the edge of the bed, threw his feet over the side and reached for the dog. Mocha rewarded his pets with a thorough licking of his bare toes, producing hysterical laughter from the boy and his mother.
In many instances, the dogs are an “ice breaker,” providing an opportunity for the dog’s handler to strike up a conversation with the patient. Most patients are open to having us offer up bed-side prayers for their peace and healing. On one occasion after praying over a patient, the patient asked if she could pray for me!
Having recently lost my wife to cancer, I have become a major recipient of the “therapy” my two dogs provide. Their presence, unconditional love and physical touch are of great comfort to me. And these canines are constant reminders of who Christ wants me to be.
For more information about pet therapy contact Alan Meyers (509) 990-8947.