Dogs Bring Love and Comfort to Hospicare

By Emily Hopkins

Hospicare volunteers bring love and furry kisses to patients’ bedsides.  Left to right are: Eve and Finn, Avery, Janet with her dog Eve, and Ruby.

“Animals aren’t judgmental, they don’t care what you look like, what you sound like, who you are. They reduce anxiety and heart rate, and they ease depression,” explains Hospicare volunteer Janet Gray, who directs Cornell University Veterinary College’s Cornell Companion Program. The program, which marks its 25thyear in 2023, makes regular visits to 14 care facilities and group residences in the Ithaca area, including Hospicare. Janet visits Hospicare with her Golden Retriever Eve. 

“During the pandemic,” Janet says, “Hospicare was one of the only places besides Longview, to allow our visits. “The dogs even went on Zoom meetings with residents of Longview. 

Each of the 14 facilities regularly visited by Cornell Companion animals and handlers has a team lead. Hospicare’s team lead is Marg Pough, owner of four adorable Border Terriers whom she brings to Hospicare: DJ, Devlin, Pipit, and Avery. Janet marvels at how in tune with humans many companion animals can be. “Many of them seem to know which people want a snuggle, which just want a quick pat.” 

Anne Robbins, a retired school nurse and Montessori school administrator, regularly visits Hospicare with her mild-mannered Goldendoodle, Ruby. Hospicare can expect at least one visit a week from a companion animal and his or her human. 

Cornell Companion’s program currently boasts 40 volunteer humans and 40+companion animals, including an owl named Luna and a llama named Breakfast. Each animal must pass a rigorous test of their ability to stay calm, not react to canes and wheelchairs and walkers, and to let people—including children and the elderly—pet them awkwardly or heavily.  

Before she had Eve, Janet used to bring Ace, also a Golden Retriever (she’s owned Golden Retrievers for the past 40 years).  

“There was a wonderful lady who lit up every time Ace and I visited,” Janet remembers. 

“She had a box of dog treats on her nightstand. Ace would put his paws on her bed so she could pet him. She delighted in talking about her dogs from childhood and how she missed them while she stoked Ace’s head and ears. Ace closed his eyes while she talked and petted him. At the end of our visit, Ace gladly received a dog treat from her. We visited her for many months at Hospicare until one day when we arrived, we found her room empty. We later found out that she had improved and was moved to another facility.” 

“Cornell Companion dogs have been visiting our residence for many years now, where so many patients as well as staff have benefited from the comfort they bring ” says Wendy Yettru, Hospicare’s Manager of Volunteer Servies. “One of my favorite memories was of one our patients who was blind and bedbound and the dog that was visiting was placed in the bed gently next to him. This patient was non-verbal, but the smile that came across his face as he embraced the dog was incredible!” 

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 5) – Sarah Nickerson, Communications Coordinator

A Special Blog Series Written by Hospicare & Palliative Care Services Staff

This November, we started a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Because we had such a positive response to the series, we are continuing it past November and into 2022. Each post features a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part five of this series, we feature Sarah Nickerson, Hospicare Communications Coordinator.

Sarah Nickerson, Hospicare Communications Coordinator

“Hi, my name is Sarah Nickerson, and I am Hospicare’s new communications coordinator. I spent the summer helping Hospicare’s development team with Women Swimmin’ as the seasonal events assistant, and was hired into my current role by Sara Worden, director of development and community relations, in November. I am so excited to take on this role and help share the amazing work our team does and stories of the people we serve!

My relationship with Hospicare began many years ago. In my early twenties, I accompanied my mother, who was a Hospicare volunteer, to a bereavement group for children held at the residence on Kind Road. A few years later, I proudly waited on shore while she swam across Cayuga Lake as a participant in Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. In the summer of 2018, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and given less than a year to live. We were fortunate enough to be able to move her into Hospicare’s residence for the final months of her life. Having my mother in care at the residence allowed us to be with her as loved ones and not caretakers, which we were ill equipped to be. Hospicare became a home away from home in those last two months before my mother’s death: a safe space filled with love, where I could be nurtured by community.

The amazing care that was given to my mother and to our entire family by Hospicare’s staff stays with me and is why I am so honored to be part of this team today. I look forward to continuing to help Hospicare provide our community with compassionate end-of-life care and grief support.”

I took this photo of my father holding my mother’s hand while she was in care in the residence at King Road just a few weeks before her death on Valentine’s Day of 2019.

***If you have a hospice or Hospicare story you want to share, please email Sarah Nickerson at snickerson@hospicare.org for more information or send a letter to:

Hospicare & Palliative Care Services

Attn: Sarah Nickerson

172 East King Rd

Ithaca, NY 14850

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 4) – Anna Osterhoudt, Social Worker

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part four of this series, we feature Anna Osterhoudt, Hospicare Social Worker.

Anna Osterhoudt, Hospicare Social Worker

“My name is Anna, and I am one of three social workers that are a part of the Hospicare team. My role as a hospice social worker is to assess the needs of our patients, their families, and support systems and provide any assistance I can. A few examples of things that I may assist with are providing emotional support to patients/caregivers, connecting them with community resources, assisting with end-of-life planning, or just being a friendly face during what can be a very difficult time.

I have been working professionally as a social worker in the medical field for the last eight years. However, I only recently joined Hospicare & Palliative Care Services three months ago. Making the decision to join Hospicare was not a difficult one as I have grown to be very passionate about hospice work, both professionally and personally. It is truly an honor and a blessing to be on this journey and to be a part of someone’s final chapters on this earth. 

With the right support, death and dying can be a spiritual, dignified, and peaceful experience. To be able to be a part of that experience and offer support and solace to patients, caregivers, and families during that time is a privilege that I cherish. It can also be scary, emotional, and trying but what is so special about Hospicare is that no matter what the experience is, which is very different for everyone, we are never alone. As a team we support each other, the patients, their families and caregivers, other agency staff, you name it, we are never left to handle it alone.  So why did I choose to work in hospice? There is a saying ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I was lucky enough to find that job with Hospicare.”

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 3) – Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part three of this series, we feature Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services.

Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services

“Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m the Manager of Volunteer Services at Hospicare & Palliative Care Services. When I started working here, over 20 years ago, I didn’t know much about hospice. It didn’t take long for me to see firsthand how the amazing team of professionals, including our volunteers, provides comfort physically, emotionally, and spiritually for our patients and their families. I believe in the philosophy that hospice is there so that patients may live as fully and comfortably as possible while facing end of life.

My position allows me the privilege of educating and working with community members who want to give their time and talents to Hospicare. I have enjoyed getting to know hundreds of people in Cortland and Tompkins counties as they learn about hospice and how their role as a volunteer makes a difference. Volunteers may offer to run an errand so a caregiver can have more time with their loved one; they may listen to a patient’s life stories, engage in conversation, play a game, help with a task, or be a quiet presence so someone doesn’t have to be alone. I have had the pleasure of hearing and witnessing many beautiful stories about the connections that happen between our volunteers and patients. I am honored to work with such an amazing organization and people!”

Why I Work in Hospice (Part 2) – Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN

A Special Blog Series in Honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

This November, we are sharing a special blog series written by Hospicare staff in honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Each post will feature a different member of our staff as they share why they love the work they do. In part two of this series, we feature Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN.

Suzy Quinones, Hospicare RN

“My role here at Hospicare is to help patients live the rest of their lives as comfortably as possible and to help ensure their wishes are fulfilled. Providing education and suggestions for patients and their families about how best to meet that patient’s specific needs and how to manage their symptoms adequately. Every patient is different, so I like to customize my care to best fit each patient’s needs and wishes.

At Hospicare, we really try to meet people ‘where they are’ and adjust to their needs accordingly as time goes on. To help make this possible, collaboration with other members of the Hospicare team is essential. Our team is made up of social workers, bereavement specialists, our medical director, spiritual care, volunteers and so many others that help keep our patients safe and comfortable.

Death is commonly seen as a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. I try to make death a beautiful transition for patients and their families by doing anything I can to support them physically and emotionally during this time. I feel very blessed that patients allow me to accompany them on this journey.”