Canine ‘volunteer’ provides emotional support at hospice

04/20/2013 7:28 AM

04/20/2013 7:29 AM

Nearly every day, Gary Pickell makes his rounds at the Alexander Cohen Hospice House.

So does his good friend Rosie.

They visit the terminally ill patients, about half of whom come to the 16-room facility to ease into eternity. Others are there to have their pain and other problems controlled and stabilized so that they can go home to spend their final days. And others check in to give their caregiver kinfolk a break.

The house serves about 700 patients each year.

Rosie is there for all of them. She’s an 8-year-old golden Labrador retriever and a full-time staff member.

“She works for food,” Pickell said.

With her photo ID “volunteer” badge dangling from her collar, Rosie brings friendship and joy to a place that, despite its cleanliness, classy decor and cheerful staff, cannot help but be cloaked in sadness. She makes friends easily and eases their pain in a way some medications cannot.

“She’s a pet therapist,” Pickell said. “She provides emotional support. Elderly people can be forgetful. They don’t remember me, but they’ll remember her. She’ll introduce herself and then go lie down. And while I’m doing my paperwork, she’ll go back and visit.”

Rosie comes from a line of downsized, calm goldens, a gift from a breeder in Escalon, Calif.

“For the first year, I had Rosie on a leash attached to my belt,” Pickell said. “After that, she knew what she had to do.”

Which is to be there to be petted, and to be a distraction for family members there waiting for the inevitable.

“To take the edge off the emotional strain,” he said. “And with the patients, she helps them feel more in touch with nature. A few don’t like dogs, but very few.”

Helen Amarant of Atwater, Calif., and Rosie became fast friends when Helen’s husband, Joe, became a patient.

“I think Rosie liked me instantly,” Amarant said. “We’ve always had German shepherds. I never met a dog I didn’t love.”

After her husband passes, she said, “I will still come back and feed her.”

Roxanne Poole, there last week to visit her mom, Shirley Turner, is another Rosie fan.

“She’s sweet,” Poole said. “She follows us around.”

Poole brings bacon-strip doggie snacks, making her one of Rosie’s favorites, as well.

“My dog’s going to be jealous when I get home, smelling you on me,” she said, talking to Rosie.

Oleta Woodside is a patient at the Hospice House. She’s 80 and misses her cat, Marmalade, and dog, Molly, a Maltese.

“I would love to bring them in here,” she said. “Molly was a rescue dog.”

Which makes Rosie’s visits so meaningful. She dropped in unannounced on Woodside earlier that morning.

“She got to share a little bit of my breakfast,” Woodside said. “But not too much. We don’t want her getting overweight. She’s a charming, delightful dog. I enjoy her friendship very much.”

A friend, indeed, and just what the doctor ordered.

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