More Pet Therapy Volunteers Needed in Waupaca and New London
Peg Frieders knows the emotional and physical toll that comes with being a full-time caretaker for a terminally ill family member. It was a difficult experience but she discovered she was not alone.
“I realized, after the fact, that I could not have succeeded without the support of the Hospice staff, including my volunteer,” said Frieders of Waupaca.
Three years ago, she joined the ThedaCare At Home Hospice program in the Waupaca area. “I have found it to be most rewarding,” she said.
She knows she is providing comfort and relief to both the patient and their caretakers. She sits with the patients, providing a break for caretakers to tend to personal matters. “I am with the family members and the patient as needed through a very difficult time,” she said. “I enjoy my time with my patients as they share their memories and their life travels with me. We have wonderful chats and laughs.”
Frieders also serves a special role with those who are dying as a coordinator for the Peaceful Presence program. “Peaceful Presence places a volunteer at the bedside of a dying patient,” she said, noting that volunteers sit for two-hour blocks of time. “This part of my volunteer work is also very important to me as I firmly believe no one should die alone. Many of our patients are at the Vet's home in King and their family members may not be able to be with them in their final hours. I consider it a privilege to be with them.”
ThedaCare At Home, a not-for-profit hospice, is seeking hospice and pet therapy volunteers in Waupaca, New London and surrounding communities to assist in caring for the terminally ill patients and their families. Currently, there are 30 active regular volunteers and nine pet therapy volunteers. “Our volunteers visit with patients where ever they call home,” said Sarah Lederer, volunteer and bereavement coordinator. “This could be in their home, at an area nursing home, the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, or an assisted living facility. The volunteers provide support, respite and companionship for both patients and families.”
Non-human volunteers also serve in the Hospice program. Christine Faulks, and her dog, Max, have been hospice pet therapy volunteers for ThedaCare At Home for three years. Faulks is also the area coordinator for the Waupaca pet therapy program, which is comprised of nine volunteers and their pets, all dogs.
“We visit area nursing homes in addition to patients in the hospice program who request an ongoing visit from a dog during their final journey in life,” she said. “Our volunteers find the program to be very rewarding in many respects but especially when we reach through a person’s invisible bubble and make a connection, whether it be a simple smile, a gentle touch on the dog’s head, or a splendid discussion about the dogs that they have had in their lives. Their smiles and shared memories are the greatest reward a volunteer can hope for.”
The dogs, and their owners, are all registered therapy dog teams. “Dogs must be comfortable with loud noises, alarms, different surfaces, and many other unusual challenges that we may encounter in a medical area,” said Faulks.
“Dogs must be comfortable interacting with unfamiliar people in unfamiliar settings,” added Lederer. “Dogs and their handlers go through a comprehensive therapy dog training that is provided at no cost to the handler. Volunteers go through a comprehensive 12 hour hospice training that is usually three nights. In addition, pet therapy dog volunteers must complete an additional 12 hours of therapy dog handler-specific training.”
The ThedaCare Hospice Foundation helps support the pet therapy program, by providing funding for both the training of the animals and their handlers in addition to the costs associated with obtaining training resources and dog vests with a photo of the dog. “Through generous contributions, the ThedaCare Hospice Foundation is pleased to provide funding for such a meaningful program in this community,” said Erin Wilkum, regional development officer, ThedaCare Family of Foundations, noting that in the Waupaca and New London areas, the foundation has approved more than $5,600 for the project in 2015.
“Research shows that pet therapy increases the ‘feel good hormones’ and decreases the ‘stress hormone,’ while providing decreased heart rates, reduced anxiety, feelings of loneliness and incidences of depression,” said Wilkum. “Empirically, we also know that pet therapy brings welcome change to hospice patients and their families. We hear patients ask for ‘their’ therapy dog and family members note that their loved ones open up during and after visits.”
To become a hospice volunteer, contact Sarah Lederer at 920-716-2783 or email at email@example.com. To volunteer for the pet therapy program, contact Molly Johnson, owner and consultant of Canine Comfort, LLC, at 920-716-1890 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a training session that will be the first and second week of August. Volunteers all have to attend 12 hours of training. Times and exact dates of those weeks will be set depending on those attending.