Volunteer dogs provide love and companionship in hospice care

Molly is not even three years old, but she’s already faced more death than many adults.

She’s been volunteering at Dulcina Hospice at St. Marguerite Manor in Calgary for more than two years and has had to say goodbye to several people with whom she’s developed deep connections.

Molly is a labradoodle who comes to work with her owner, Beverly Ann Godfrey, a Registered Nurse at Dulcina Hospice. Molly joins Bev as she makes her rounds during the night shift, eagerly greeting any staff and residents she encounters.

“She’s got her certain folks that she just loves,” says Bev. “And as soon as she sees them, she’s crying and wagging her tail.”

Bev says Molly helps her to remember, even on busy nights, to take time to sit and listen to each resident. Molly brings joy to children who visit the hospice. And she freely offers and receives companionship and love.

“I’ve had folks that can’t do much and I wonder if she’s made an impact, and a hand will reach out when I never thought one would. She just listens to their soul rather than anything else.”

While Molly is a regular fixture on the unit during the night shift, her fellow four-pawed volunteer Honey occasionally visits during the day with her owner, Lisa Andrews, a social worker at Dulcina Hospice. The dogs hold still while patients pet them. If residents want, the dogs will put their paws up on the bed to get closer. Some residents will even ask Molly or Honey to jump up on their bed and lie with them.

Resident Ginny Farion, 36, is glad to have Molly and Honey around. They remind her of her dog, Oliver.

“It’s something that’s cuddly and warm and just curls up next to you and helps you feel better,” says Ginny, who was admitted to hospice with a life-limiting illness. “I’m getting a little bit of affection from my dog through another dog.”

Resident Ardelle Bircham enjoys a visit from Honey and Social Worker Lisa Andrews.

To volunteer, Molly and Honey needed a veterinarian letter showing their immunizations were up to date. Neither dog has any special training, but Ginny’s mom, Karen Bruens, is impressed by how well behaved they are.

“It’s a very comforting service. When the dogs come in, the faces light up. It gives you something else to think about,” says Karen. 

“It’s almost like a piece of home coming to visit you.”

Bev says Molly feels a strong connection with the residents she visits. Molly is usually excited when it’s time to put on her handkerchief and leave for work. But when Molly has lost a few friends at hospice, Bev notices that Molly gets quiet and chooses to stay home.

“There are times that she can be sad or that being here is just too much, and I think those are the days she doesn’t come to me when I’m getting dressed to go to work. So I don’t make her come if it’s been a tough time and one of her favourite people has died.”

When Molly returns to Dulcina Hospice, she pulls Bev to the room left vacant by her departed friend, stopping to sniff the door and then going in to sniff around the room.

“I think she remembers who was there and is saying goodbye.”

Bev enjoys seeing the benefit Molly provides for residents. When Bev retires, she hopes to volunteer in a healthcare setting with her four-legged friend since people seem drawn to her.

“She’s warm, she’s soft. They can talk to her however they want, and sometimes they don’t talk at all.”

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