Volunteer Katie Garra and her pet therapy dog, Cody, visit regularly with patients and families at the Medina inpatient hospice care center. Photograph courtesy of Hospice of the Western Reserve.


While many Clevelanders have been attending summer graduation parties and maybe the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities in and around Progressive Field, other Northeast Ohio teams have been quietly holding their own graduations and assembling their own all stars. I’m talking about teams of therapy dogs and their humans. While these good Samaritans help all sorts of people, residents at area senior-living communities enjoy particular benefits from pet therapy.

The non-profit Hospice of the Western Reserve (HWR) provides pet therapy for the comfort and support of patients and their families, explained Laurie Henrichsen, the public and media relations manager for HWR. “We currently have 23 pet-therapy teams,” she said. Each team includes a trained hospice volunteer and their trained and certified hospice therapy dog.

Laurie added, “After the dog graduates from training and is certified, the owner provides documentation and then completes 12 additional hours of HWR hospice volunteer training. We have them shadow one of our veteran hospice therapy dog teams for a while before they begin volunteering as an independent team.”

Pets offer many benefits to hospice patients. “Simply stroking an animal can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate and ease depression,” Laurie said. “Sometimes, patients who have memory impairment, or who have not communicated for other reasons, make a special connection. Petting the dog awakens something in them. Perhaps they had a pet of their own before they became ill.  Our hospice therapy dogs also help comfort and soothe family members and loved ones.”

AgingCare.com reports, “Dogs and cats live very much in the present. They don’t worry about tomorrow, which can be a very scary concept for an older person. An animal embodies that sense of here and now, and it tends to rub off on people. Animals can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase social interaction and physical activity.”

Jessica Kulczycki, Judson Park’s community life and CARE director said Judson has an expansive pet-therapy program. “We have pet visits from volunteers, families, and residents that live

here and own an animal. Judson understands how important animals are to residents. We even have a therapy rooster that visits Judson Manor. We’re open to pet interactions because we

know that brings joy and lots of smiles.”

Jessica said pets offer many benefits. “What I think is so important, especially in our environment and when someone is moving into Judson, downsizing or leaving their home: They get to keep their companion. I’ve seen the animal bring reassurance, familiarity, and companionship for the new resident. The animal helps them transition and make new friends. When they are walking around the campus, neighbors and associates interact and ask the owner questions so spontaneous conversation occurs. The animals truly bring our community to life.”

Medical-Alert Service Dogs:

Some specially trained dogs can alert an owner to certain medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website said dogs have “been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers.” Dogs4Diabetics.com describes themselves as the first and a leader in developing Medical-Alert Service Dogs. According to their website, D4D scent-trained dogs can detect changes in blood sugar 20-30 minutes before the newest technology.

Pet therapy dogs and their owners gather on the deck at David Simpson Hospice House, Hospice of the Western Reserve’s inpatient care center in Cleveland.  Photo courtesy of Hospice of the Western Reserve.