Kaplan House’s four-legged volunteer gives comfort to patients
By Brendan Quealy
Settling into a nursing home is not an easy task. Life as you know it completely changes. Routines are no longer your routines, but those of the staff and other residents.
Maria Atherton, the complementary therapies associate for Hospice of the North Shore & Greater Boston, remembers one woman’s story well. A new resident at the Kaplan Family Hospice House—a sweet, 90-year-old woman—was anxious and fidgety. Weeks passed and she just couldn’t seem to settle in. No one from her family had come to visit since she moved in, and her condition was deteriorating. But then Patrick, the resident Golden Retriever, showed up. As he strolled through the door, she lit up. “She pretty much ignored me,” Atherton remembers. “Patrick walked right up and laid his head on the bed. The woman said, ‘You are so beautiful. You are the most beautiful thing in the world. I take it as a great compliment that you feel so comfortable staying beside me.’ It was an amazing moment.”
The next day, the woman became unresponsive. She died later that night, and the staff at Kaplan House took great comfort in knowing that Patrick brought her a bit of peace and joy near the end of her life. “Often times, when family comes to visit a patient who is dying, it provides some sort of closure and makes it OK for them to let go,” explains Anne Williams, the public relations director of Hospice. “A lot of people felt that with Patrick there, it gave her the strength to let go because she recognized there was a caring and compassionate being next to her.”
Patrick has become a star in his nearly two years as a therapy dog. The 3-year-old, four-legged volunteer certainly earns his keep working five days a week. Patrick knows more than 90 commands and uses about six of them on a regular basis. Residents love to see him sit, shake, give kisses, lie down, roll over, and place his paw on a patient’s lap. “Patrick is such a calming presence,” Atherton says. “Some of the patients really miss having their animals around. [When they talk] about the pets they had when they were young, you can see the smiles on their faces get bigger.”
Animals bring out our nurturing instincts while helping us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. They often allow patients and family members to relax, by lightening stressful or sad situations. But Patrick makes a difference for the entire community at the Kaplan House.
“What was unexpected was the effect that he had on the staff,” Atherton says. “When he is around, people are just generally happier.”
In fact, Atherton, who specializes in art therapy, helped Patrick create beautiful watercolor paintings with his paws to brighten up the hallways. “People love it, and think it is so great and funny,” Atherton observes. “We are even thinking about reproducing them for T-shirts.”
This amazing dog has made quite an impact in his short career. According to Atherton, “A lot of people know who Patrick is even before they come through our doors.”
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