Robert Drake of Weyauwega is used to being overlooked when he goes to Wisconsin Veterans Home in King. He is not offended because he knows the veterans have a connection with his 4-year-old partner, Hodge, a Golden Retriever.
“They recognize Hodge,” said Drake, 66. “They don’t recognize me. I lead him in there and everyone says ‘Hodge, Hodge, Hodge.’ That’s all they look for. They recognize the dog before they do me.”
Once a week, Drake and Hodge visit the veterans as part of the pet therapy program offered by ThedaCare At Home Hospice.
“We are involved in all types of pet therapy programs but our main focus is on hospice pet therapy,” said Christine Faulks, hospice pet therapy coordinator, Waupaca County. “Our role as dog owners is to just be and let our dogs do the visiting with patients. It is a beautiful visit with hospice patients or resident's in the nursing homes. Smiles come to the faces of even the most challenged residents as they remember a beloved pet from the past, or simply see a friendly four-legged friend walk into the room.”
Being a pet therapy volunteer is a dream come true for Drake. “I had always wanted to do this my whole life,” he said.
It was also a dream his father had during his days in a hospice facility before passing away in 2005. “He came up with some dream about a man with a white dog,” said Drake. “It was pretty vivid. At that time I did have a white lab.”
As an Army veteran himself, Drake can also relate to the veterans and the loneliness they feel. “I know there’s a lot more now who have nobody,” he said.
In 2012, Drake decided to take training with Hodge. Every Wednesday he and Hodge will go to Olson Hall, one of the buildings at King, and spend two and a half hours making rounds. “It’s just a great feeling to do this,” he said. “The dog is totally anxious to get there in the morning and by 11:30, when we leave, he is exhausted.”
The two also visit libraries in New London, Iola and Waupaca. “He’s great with kids but he’s very anxious and wants to keep moving,” he said.
But he mostly enjoys visiting the veterans. “If it wasn’t with Hodge, I would do it myself,” he said.
“Bob Drake is an awesome volunteer and very dedicated to his visits, with Hodge, at the Vet's Home,” said Faulks. “He is a veteran himself and can really relate to the men there.”
Hodge adds a personal element to the visits. “I believe Hodge can open up their minds and they can talk, talk about their pets and their past,” said Drake, noting many of the veterans had to leave their own pets before coming to King. “They talk about those pets that they had. You see them with tears in their eyes. It’s very emotional for them.”
Staff have gotten to know Drake and Hodge and will direct them to a resident who would love to see the dog.
“Their eyes just light up when they see that dog come in,” said Drake, noting that just by stroking Hodge “ you can see how relaxing and good it is for them.”