Dog therapy program helps people in final stages of life


MISSOULA, Mont. - A Missoula program is making an effort to bring happiness to people in their final stages of life. It's the only program of its kind in western Montana. Partners in Home Care volunteers utilize the help of canine companions to comfort patients in hospice centers.

Moose, a 4-year-old golden retriever, and Tom, a resident at Springs Montana, are best buds. "We've got a thing going here," Tom said. He said he looks forward to Moose's weekly visits. "He likes to be with me."

Tom was given six months to live, but he's beaten the odds and graduated from the hospice program.

Partners in Home Care volunteer coordinator Val Piercy likes to think Moose helped Tom recover. "Moose will sit with Tom. Tom just scratches his ears," Piercy said. "It's amazing what the effect of these critters are."

She said Moose's hospital visits can help patients with pain, stress, anxiety, loneliness or memory loss.

"When he's with Tom or with other patients you can see the tension release. You can see them calm, you can see them relax. The touching, the contact, that relationship builds and gets stronger."

So strong, Piercy said having dogs like Moose around can also help reduce patients' pain and blood pressure.

"To see them relax after spending time with him is just an amazing thing; it's a gift," Piercy added.

But the demand for pets like Moose at hospice centers is growing. Moose has traveled all across western Montana to come to patients' aid. Piercy and Moose are trying to keep up with the demand, but are hoping for more volunteers through a new pet ambassador program. She said she hopes to expand because there is a need. Piercy said all the nonprofit program needs is people and time.

"When they reach their hand out for Moose, he's going to be there for them," she said. Moose was a rescue dog, and Piercy said he understands his duty to help those who need him.

"You can get a patient smiling who previously wasn't able to or didn't feel OK about smiling, and you know Moose has helped make that happen, then you know you're doing a good job."

If you would like to get involved visit Partners in Home Care's website here.

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