I want to incorporate a team of therapy honor dogs. I’ve thought of it almost daily since that cold December day last year…
Therapy honor dogs would –
add additional support (upon request) to those families who desire the comfort a dogs presence can provide during a difficult emotional experience – like the loss of a loved one.
They will be called the “honor dogs” for two reasons –
- because their pet therapy duties will also include aiding and assisting those in need during the hospital Honor Walks.
- a grieving mother gave them that name.
WHAT IS AN HONOR WALK?
An “Honor Walk” is a ritual that recognizes a dying patient’s wish to donate organs to save other lives. It takes place at an odd pause between life and death.
The symbolic ritual consists of the unresponsive patient being wheeled from their hospital room to the OR with family, clergy and clinical staff following close behind. The hallways are usually lined with dozens of hospital employees who come to honor the patient…
When we (hospital employees) receive notification of an Honor Walk – I do my best to be there with either Harley or Jaxson to give comfort to those nurses, physicians and surgeons who have cared for the patient…
In the latter part of 2019, pet therapy was asked to participate in two Honor Walks. The first one I did not have one of my boys at the hospital, but thankfully a seasoned Therapy Volunteer was available and filled in.
An isolated request, I thought nothing more of it.
A WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS –
We experienced several consecutive days of heavy rain.
Streets surrounding the hospital are notorious for flooding (as in other areas around the pennisula) which prohibits many teams from driving in to volunteer.
As I did my best to juggle dogs from one unit to the other responding to pet visitation requests, I had no idea was was about to happen.
Around 2 pm, I received a call from an ICU nurse. A thirty seven year old husband, father to a two year old, younger brother of two siblings was unresponsive. There was nothing else medically that could be done. He was making the ultimate sacrifice later that evening and his family wanted Pet Therapy present for his Honor Walk.
As I began contacting teams already scheduled to volunteer that evening, the patient’s siblings came to my office. They wanted to thank me and reiterated the importance of dogs in their brother’s life and how much the pet therapy teams would mean to him and everyone else.
CAN YOU COME? –
At 3:30 pm I dispatched an email to 58 teams who I believed had the bandwidth to handle what I would ask of them. I gave all the details that I knew and simply ended my correspondence with “can you come?”
Living only a mile from the hospital, I went home to get Jaxson. He was drenched after his evening walk. Rain soaked areas his yellow raincoat couldn’t cover as we made our way to the hospital. He looked like a mop fresh out of a bucket and dripped water everywhere.
I dried him with a beach towel – the best I could – and we headed up to the ICU waiting area.
We arrived at least an hour before the Honor Walk was scheduled to begin. Already there were close to 75 people huddled in little clusters. Some were sitting in chairs, others were standing against the wall. Everyone was sharing stories about what a great guy this patient was.
Arriving as early as I did allowed me the pleasure of meeting the patients parents, cousins, siblings, in-laws and co-workers.
They petted, hugged and loved on Jaxson as they reminisced about his love for dogs, especially his beloved dog who passed away not too long ago.
I learned much about this family – just sitting with them and with Jaxson.
As much as I tried, it was impossible to get to everyone. I felt horrible. People were laughing one minute then crying the next – all looking at Jaxson for comfort. There were too many people, and only one dog.
THAT’S WHEN IT HAPPENED –
With only about fifteen minutes left before we would be ushered upstairs to line-up, the elevators started to open. Seven times a volunteer walked out of it with a therapy dog in tow!
Each time it happened the room seemed to light up with their presence. The chatter grew louder. Suddenly you heard more laughter and less crying.
One Golden Retriever reminded the patient’s wife so much of her husbands dog, she asked if the Volunteer would stay with the immediate family during the private bedside ceremony as well as be apart of the family escort to the OR.
Both Therapy Dog and Volunteer did an outstanding job fulfilling her wishes.
The rest of us filled in the gaps along the hallway to the OR intertwined between friends, extended family and medical personnel.
HONOR DOGS –
We remained in the silent hallway for a very long time after the walk concluded. As people passed by, many felt the need to either pet, hug, cry and/or thank our dogs for being there.
The patients mom was the last to leave that OR doorway. When she reached us, she hugged me and said her son would have loved these –
And I knew right then and there this is the perfect name for such an honorable task.
I made it a point to hug and thank each team that night and checked on them individually the following day. Collectively they were humbled and honored to have been there that night.
I have no doubt each one of them will volunteer to be a part of the Honor Dog team.
I also doubt I will ever forget that experience.
FYI: This small but selective group of pups and human volunteer teams will receive additional training on grief assistance to not only help themselves but those who are saying goodbye to a loved one.
I love what I do professionally – I am blessed to have been chosen ❤️