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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Little Allegories


Names and other personal information from a Therapy Visit cannot be shared.

Chad Burgess, Carla Donovan-Burgess and Gopher are volunteers and do not officially represent any institution mentioned in these visits.

 The experiences, conversations are true and really took place the names of persons, if given have only been changed to protect the confidentiality of those we visit.

It has been amazing getting to work with Gopher to say the least, the support we get from our friends, family, and new friends is amazing and I cannot be more thankful.

Gopher is becoming more and more popular all the time, not just here on this blog, but in the community. Currently we are averaging three or more visits per week, and Gopher is excited at the mere mention of going to work. We are visiting kids in a wide variety of circumstances and their families, as well as patients who are in hospice. To date we have had 5 hospice patients, with one passing shortly after our first visit.

Visiting a hospice patient so far has been an experience unlike any other we have faced in our therapy work. I already have a favorite who I will dedicate future entries too as we progress in our relationship. There are a few items though I had heard about, but have now experienced first hand. I also had another unique experience with a child patient I had been visiting as well, all of these

1.     A patient close to death will tend to stare off in the distance and have moments of lucidity, often these moments may be prompted by a wide variety of circumstances, a touch, mentioning a name. In our case it was Gopher. We entered the room which was quite warm, it was our second visit and our first visit with the patient and my nerves combined with the heat of the room created a sweaty brow. Gopher on the other hand was all business he knew what he was there for, and what he needed to do. The patient was lying in the bed and did not notice our entrance or introduction, Gopher went to the bed, sat, placed his back to the bed and looked over his shoulder at the person lying in the bed. A moment or two passed in which I visited with the family member in the room, then like a flash of lightning the person lying in the bed was with us again, in the room, rolled over and petting Gopher, smiling and laughing at the enthusiastic retriever wagging as his bedside. We visited for just a few more minutes until it was obvious this extra exertion had tired the patient, we said out good byes and left. A few days later I would receive word that the patient had passed peacefully with family by his side. How wonderful it was to be able to provide a few moments of joy and laughter in their final days.

2.     A patient whose mind has wandered and is non-communicative will still noticeably enjoy a visit from a therapy team. I spoke about this in an entry a few weeks ago. Gopher and I went to our first visit where this was just the case. The patient smiled and laughed at the mere sight of Gopher and attempted to pet him as much as her weakened limbs would allow. Not a word was spoken, but the smile was obvious, Gopher had made it through the fog of the patients mind and returned it to the present moment. Something the staff member told me on our next visit had not occurred in weeks.

3.     I have said many times that I feel like Gopher is not really my dog that he belongs to the wider community due to our work. Last night Gopher showed me just how much. We had spent our typical hour visiting with a wide variety of children including a special toddler who was about to head home. Our time had passed, and I said it was time to go, our special toddler still excitingly petting Gopher. I told Gopher it was time to go and he stood and looked around the room doing his goodbye looks. As I was grabbing my coat the toddler yelled, “No, Opher, you stay.”, hitting the floor with the palms of his hands. Just as if I had delivered a command, Gopher dropped to the floor laid on his side and leaned into the toddler. The little guy enjoyed every moment of this as did Gopher, five minutes later, Gopher allowed us to end our visit and leave for the night.

Gopher has shown and taught me much in these adventures and I could not be more proud of him, even in the times he makes mistakes. Over the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to read stories about some of our more specific experiences with patients. One of our facilities is undergoing another phase of turnover where families I have been visiting for months will depart, to be replaced with new introductions and hopefully more moments of comfort. Our patient repertoire is expanding daily and we will be visiting our first library this month. In the next few days, if you choose to entertain it, I will be writing a musing regarding fate that have caused self reflection due to my experiences and coincidences I have had with Gopher.


  1. I truly enjoy these stories. It must be so wonderful to provide that joy to the one patient in his last few days.

    I often think Finn knows when it is and when it isn't time to go too. That little guy you were visiting really needed that extra few minutes!

    1. Thank you. It seems as Finn and Gopher might have a lot in common. It is remarkable being in the room and witnessing a connection like that in any circumstance, even more so when it ends up being the last moments of ones life and you know they enjoyed it.

  2. You have such a wonderful blog and the stories of you and Gopher are truly touching. I have awarded you a Pawsome Blogger Award.

    Congratulations and dont forget to pass it on to 8 others and encourage other pet bloggers as well!!


    1. Thank you so much. I am working on figuring out how to pass on the image. Have some bad luck before.