Canine Comfort gives nursing home patients puppy love
Julie Rosenbaum’s job is to recruit and train hospice volunteers for OSF Home Care Services. But two of her more recent recruits are among her favorites.
Erin and Alexis — who have their own official volunteer badges — make up the roster of the service’s Canine Comfort program, along with owners Wayne and Miki McKenna. The program visits hospice patients and other residents at Provena Cor Mariae Center in Rockford and Northwoods Care Center in Belvidere, both of which have contracts with OSF.
Rosenbaum said she plans to expand into home visits and other nursing homes in 2010.
“I had heard about the Animal Assisted Therapy program at the (OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center) hospital,” Rosenbaum said, “and I wanted to do something with hospice, because I know how people respond to animals.”
Miki McKenna heard about Rosenbaum’s wish, and she and Wayne, figuring their docile and already obedience-trained dogs fit the need, attended an OSF volunteer training session last spring. “When they came up to me after the meeting and said they would like to see what we could do, I was just so excited,” Rosenbaum said.
“It’s like it was just meant to be,” said Miki McKenna, adding that she wanted a chance to help start the program because her father, a pet lover all his life, had been in a nursing home but had never been able to have a pet there.
“We knew the dogs would be wonderful,” McKenna said. “They are very well-trained dogs. Erin is so calm, I think she’d let you tie her in a knot before she’d do anything, and I know it sounds funny, but Alexis smiles at people. They love going on the visits and they’re always willing to stand still, be petted and get some lovies. I think they know they’re doing something good.”
Rosenbaum took the plan to Donna Medina, vice president of hospice services for OSF Home Care Services, who set out guidelines for training of both human and canine volunteers as well as documenting physician approval and consent by the nursing homes, and the first visits took place in September.
“The idea, obviously, was to go where we have hospice patients,” Rosenbaum said, “but our whole goal is to reach out to all the patients.”
After seeing the McKennas and their dogs in training, Rosenbaum said, she wasn’t going to take part in the nursing home visits, “but I ended up going with them two or three times because it has been so rewarding.
“We literally can’t get out of the nursing homes. The majority of the people have had a pet, especially a dog, so there’s always a story to tell. And then there’s some of the things that have happened, especially on the Alzheimer’s units. The people may not be able to express themselves, but the smiles, the tears — the dog is a way to reach out to the patients who may not be able to express themselves. We don’t have to say much, we just bring the dog and they open up.”
The McKennas have a third dog in training to join the program, and Rosenbaum said two other volunteers are interested in beginning training for their dogs.
Among the guidelines, Rosenbaum said, are that human volunteers must complete volunteer training and provide proof that the dog has successfully completed a behavior training class. The pet also will be tested on behavior with a group of people it doesn’t know.
“Our guidelines are not quite as strict as the hospital program,” she said.
McKenna said a visit to Provena Cor Mariae produced one of her favorite moments when a patient knelt down a hugged Alexis with tears in his eyes.
“When you see what it does for the patients, it’s priceless,” she said. “Once you’ve done it, you won’t want to stop.”
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 email@example.com.