Pet Connections program brings comfort to hospice patients - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Community Focus

Pet Connections program brings comfort to hospice patients

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Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012 6:47 am

When her father’s health was deteriorating after being diagnosed with cancer, Ahwatukee Foothills resident Doreen Myles found comfort from the staff at Hospice of the Valley, and from her new yorkie puppy, Riley. Now that her father has passed away, Myles is giving back to Hospice of the Valley by volunteering her time and her dog’s sweet spirit visiting other patients in hospice care.

Myles is part of a program called Valley Pet Connections. It began as a grant to Hospice of the Valley in 2006 for dementia patients. The program assigns teams of handlers and their pets to pay visits to patients in hospice care. For dementia patients the animals can not only brighten their day but bring back fond memories of pets from their past. Once hospice realized there were benefits in the program not only for dementia patients, but for all of their patients, they extended the program and even made a separate department for it within Hospice of the Valley. The program now has 181 active pet therapy teams visiting patients across the Valley.

Myles first heard about the program when her father entered hospice care. Around the same time that her father’s health was failing Myles received Riley as a gift from her husband. When Myles began making daily visits to her parent’s house, Riley was too young to be left at home alone so she brought him along. Riley would stay and lay on the hospital bed for hours each day and that became the regular routine.

“I think he just became very acclimated to being in an environment like that,” Myles said. “Hospice would come and bring their pet therapy teams and Riley would interact with the animals they brought as well. When my dad finally passed, and after a time frame of going through that whole process, I was trying to think of ways I could give back and it seemed like a natural fit.”

Riley is a very calm yorkie, Myles said. His calming influence has been a big benefit to the patients she visits.

“I think the biggest benefit he brings is he doesn’t bring any demands,” she said. “He’s just there to be company.”

The program isn’t limited to only dogs. There’s a need for more therapy cats, bunnies and hospice currently has a therapy miniature horse.

“Our pet therapy animals go out as a source of companionship and a distraction to what’s going on in our patient’s lives,” said Charis Williams, manager of the Pet Connections program. “Often times when a patient is on hospice care they have so many clinicians visiting them, but when a pet visits they’re just there to share comfort, and laughter, and joy, and often times with a hospice patient there aren’t a lot of those moments. Our pet therapy teams go in and offer that. Touching something warm and fuzzy is always a good thing.”

Myles said the best part about volunteering for her is just getting to know the patients. Some of the people she visits are in their 90s.

“They’re like books,” she said. “They have stories to tell and information. It’s like reading a little bit of history. They have a lot to share and if you have the time and the patience, and you can sit with them, they’ll reveal a little bit more every visit. It’s really rewarding. I feel like I’m giving back in honor of my own father and the service that we received from hospice. It’s really gratifying for me.”

Hospice of the Valley utilizes nationally registered pet therapy teams for the program. Those interested in volunteering can fill out an application at and specify a desire to volunteer in the Pet Connections program. Williams said those interested will be called in for an interview with their pet and if the pet is not yet certified as a therapy pet, hospice can offer some ways to get the certification.

“It really is about a team,” Williams said. “We look at the handler and the dog as a team. It’s about a team with the right handling and the right fit. We want dogs with basic obedience skills and they have to be friendly with strangers. They need to be non-aggressive to other dogs because occasionally they’ll encounter other dogs when they’re visiting. We also just look for people who have a general sense of wanting to share their animals with other people.”

For more information on the program, visit or call (602) 530-6336.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or

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