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Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Personal information obtained on therapy visits is confidential. When applicable the name/location/sex/condition of persons visited may be changed to protect privacy. However, the interactions, conversations are true and did occur as written. 

Gopher, Chad,  Squirrel and Carla are all volunteers. They do not officially represent any institution that may be mentioned.

If you read the schedule today's article was going to be about a negative experience and how Gopher and I handled the situation. It will still happen as the hope is to be informative for those seeking to do the same work. However I had an experience yesterday that I felt needed to be shared given that Henrietta passed away peacefully this morning.

Gopher and I were out visiting many of our patients on Monday. The end of the day had come and he had been working for over 4 hours when I called to make my reports of the days activities.

We went through the list and let them know about the day. Two of the patients I would no longer be visiting. One had declined pet therapy, and the other needed another type of volunteer and not a pet therapy team. The conversation ended, and then came the request, "Chad, I hate to add another patient as you have so many right, now, but would you mind filling one more request?" I looked over at Gopher, he had perked up in the back seat, moved his ears towards me, and had a big golden smile on his face. "Sure, I think Gopher is still ready to go, we can do our initial visit today." The volunteer coordinator was pleased by this and dispensed the information.

The room was hot when we arrived, and the Henrietta's daughter was there sitting with her mother. It was obvious that there was not much time left. Henrietta was non-responsive and per her daughter and nurse had not been responsive for a few days. 

Her respiration's were heavy and her eyes were mostly closed but what you could see of her eyes showed me that my presence did not register. 

"Henrietta, my name is Chad and I am from the hospice service. I have Gopher with me and he is a therapy dog that wanted to see you today. I am going to put him in a chair next to your bed."

I gestured to Gopher to get up in the chair, and he did so, turned sat and leaned towards the bedside of the chair.

"She loves dogs and all animals, when I put in the request she was more alert, I don't think she will respond, but thank you so much for coming and trying" the daughter said to me.

I gestured towards Henrietta's hand and her daughter gave me an affirmative nod.

"Henrietta, I am going to take your hand and place it on Gopher's head, he wanted to see you and your daughter told me you love animals and I would like to help you feel his fur."

I took her hand and placed it on his head. Almost immediately her respiration slowed, and became more relaxed. 

"Henrietta, your hand is on his head, he is a Golden Retriever and his fur is dark red, doesn't he feel soft?"

Then I felt as her fingers began to flex and move in a scratching motion a nearly innate response of a person who has known the pleasure of petting a loving dog their whole lives. Her drooped mouth curved into a smile, but her eyes were still non-responsive. It was a magical moment that lasted only a couple of minutes.

Once her fingers stopped scratching I moved her hand back next to her.

"Thank you for the pets Henrietta, you really made Gopher's tail wag, he really liked them. Thank you for letting us visit you today, we will leave now, but will return when we can."

I turned to find tears in her daughters eyes, "Thank you so much, she said to me, Mom has not been her for days, thank you for letting me see my mom again for a little bit." She leans over and pets Gopher, "Thank you Gopher, you are truly a special dog." We told her we could come back, and thanked her for letting us visit today.

We would not be given the opportunity, the body that had failed Henrietta let her go this morning, and she is at peace. The nurse who reported her death to me this morning, thanked me again, and told me that she was there with her daughter when she passed away. The daughter had told her about the experience with Gopher. Told the nurse how thankful she was, her mom had not responded to her voice or touch for days. She appeared to be struggling and her breathing had begun to bother her. She did not respond again after Gopher left, her scratching was the last sign that her mom was still in there that she saw. She was also thankful that the more relaxed respiration during Gopher's visit continued until her final moments. Although she did not rest for the night wanting to make sure her mom knew she was there and it was okay to go, she was comforted by Gopher's visit, and the effect it appeared to have on her breathing.

It was our first time meeting Henrietta, and I was not sure how the visit would go when I entered the room. The interaction I observed just confirmed the power of Gopher's work, and the strength of human-animal bond. Thank you Henrietta for letting me see this, I hope you have found peace.


  1. You know, one of my biggest fears is that when I get old I'll be separated from my animals. This was part of the reason I decided to take Sam for his TD test - I'm sure there are others with the same fear. Thanks for being there.


    1. Same here, that is just one of the many reasons I chose to do this work. Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

  2. It is such powerful work. This story brought tears to my eyes. You are doing such a good thing. How did you know your dogs had it in them?

    1. Thank you. I did not now as I wrote in: We wanted Gopher to be a therapy dog, we did not realize nor know how we got so luck in him being so exceptional at his work. It was a complete surprise. Squigs is a good therapy dog, obedient, knows his commands and interacts. I am not showing bias when I say Gopher is exceptional, it has been noted by my peers, there is something very special about him. I wish I knew how it happened.