Hospice shows appreciation for therapy dog

By Wayne Bryan Published November 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Reese, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel owned by Mary Schultz, has made more than 100 visits to terminally ill patients as a therapy dog at Arkansas Hospice in Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS — Stacy Davis, inpatient manager at the Arkansas Hospice unit on the fifth floor of Mercy Hospital Hot Springs, said some patients come into the unit angry or unwilling to communicate with staff, but she said hospice has help reaching out to those patients at one of the most basic emotional levels.

The staff calls on volunteer Mary Schultze, or more accurately, they rely on her dog Reese, a 6-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a tricolor coat and two huge brown eyes that express empathy and love.

“While they may not want to talk to us,” Davis said, “you can find out a lot by listening as they talk to the dog. Even if a patient has not been connected with an animal for a long time, there is a basic emotional bond with a dog.”

Davis said that during visits by a therapy dog, patients are calmer and breathing comes easier, and their heart rates become more regular.

“It seems to take them back to some basic time in their life, such as childhood,” she said. “If we are having a hard time collecting a history or other information from a patient, we have sometimes found it is easier if Mary and Reese do it.”

Reese, who has been a certified therapy dog since he was 14 months old, and Schultze were honored Nov. 7 with lunch and a short ceremony celebrating their more than 100 visits to the hospice.

“They have brought comfort and many smiles to the patients here and to their families,” said Jan Herrick, volunteer coordinator for Arkansas Hospice. “They have brought joy to everyone here, including the staff.”

Hospital officials presented Schultze with a plaque and a picture book of photographs from many of Reese’s visits to the hospice. The pictures feature the times when the spaniel comes to the hospice in costume. Just the week before, the dog wore Harley Davidson biker gear, Schultze said. Other times, Reese has visited the hospice decked out as an Arkansas Razorback fan, and around Christmas, he will wear his own Santa suit.

During the ceremony, Reese, who is also a show dog — both in the show ring and in obedience competitions, received a supply of his special dog treats and a raincoat. Schultze said the raincoat will be appreciated by everyone.

“When it’s raining, it is tough to carry Reese, a bag of his stuff and other things without getting him wet,” she said. “And who wants a visit from a wet, smelly dog?”

Schultze said Reese, one of her two therapy dogs, was selected to visit the hospice because she thought he was the best fit. She said the animal was a hit with both the patients and the staff, and she has been visiting the hospice almost every week since.

She addressed the gathering of staff and friends and spoke for both herself and Reese.

“We took a vote this morning, and Reese and I decided that I would do the talking today,” Schultz said. “Thank you. Today is extremely special and overwhelming, but we would not be able to come back week after week without being accepted by the staff and the families. You are all angels, and we are happy to be part of the team.”

Kelli Hall, program director for Arkansas Hospice in Hot Springs, said Reese and Schultz are also a great help to hospice.

“While there is a perception that when someone goes to hospice, it means that nothing else can be done for them,” Hall said, “Mary and Reese are living proof of what can be done to make patients’ lives better.”

Hall said Reese is the only therapy animal currently visiting hospice patients in Hot Springs but that 12 therapy dogs are certified to visit the nine Arkansas Hospice units around the state.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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