St. Thomas Volunteers Use Pet Therapy to Help Heal
As a volunteer at Adventist St. Thomas Hospice, Jennifer Voss knows the power a four-legged, best friend can have on a patient. Through pet therapy she and her two Labrador Retrievers, Tex and Gus, have aided numerous patients with limited life expectancy.
“I have volunteered in pet therapy twice a week for nine years,” said Voss, who resides in Hinsdale. “I started doing this because I realized how big of an impact a pet can have on a person’s life and I wanted to give that same joy to people in need.”
Pet therapy uses certified cats and dogs as volunteers to aid the disabled, elderly and patients in hospice care. Not only can pet therapy brighten a patient’s day, but it has also been shown to increase pain tolerance, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Voss said it is useful in the hospice setting for patients who have withdrawn from the people around them but find interaction with an animal less painful.
“Pet therapy is great because they allow patients to find a distraction and relax,” Voss said. “Dogs don’t judge patients when their hair falls out or they have tubes down their throats.”
Voss said both of her dogs have been registered through the Delta Society’s Pet Partners program, which trains volunteers and their pets for pet therapy programs in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice centers. The animals must be retested every two years to make sure they can handle loud noises, abrupt movements and changes of atmosphere. Every animal must be calm and accepting of strangers and other animals.
“Pet therapy is great because it is allows patients to take their minds off their pain as they sit and talk to the dogs,” Voss said. “When the patients see Tex and Gus, it brings a smile to their faces and can change their entire day. It is an extremely powerful and worthwhile experience.”
Barb Zerby, volunteer coordinator at Adventist St. Thomas Hospice, said pet therapy greatly improves the spirits of many of the patients. She said the volunteers are a huge asset to the hospice program.
“Pet therapy is a wonderful part of our volunteer services,” Zerby said. “Our pet volunteers help us provide friendship and compassionate, holistic care to our patients and their families.”
Adventist St. Thomas Hospice, 119 E. Ogden Ave, Hinsdale, is part of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. Certified by Medicare and accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, Adventist St. Thomas Hospice serves patients and families in DuPage, eastern Kane, northern Will and western Cook counties. For more information, call (630) 856-6990.