A Volunteer's Story

In this blog, I've had the opportunity to share stories about patients and pets from several of our hospice partners. Typically, the stories come from the local PPOM Coordinators at each hospice. This time, though, I have the wonderful privilege of sharing some personal journalling complied by a Pet Peace of Mind hospice volunteer, Valerie Canepa. Listen to her perspective as she recalls the assignments at Columbus Hospice in Georgia.

April 2010: It's 7 a.m. and my mission is to take two dogs to the groomer, drop them off and then pick them up later in the day. The owner is confined to a wheelchair and does not drive. Armed with two sturdy pet carriers and directions to the home, I am confident I'll be at my office job by 8 a.m.

Until I see the dogs.

Both are friendly, sweet dogs, but I was told one would be small and the other "medium." I have crates for small and medium pets, but the Lab mix is several inches taller than the door of the larger pet carrier.
I prod and push and attempt to bribe the oversized dog into the undersized carrier with a dog treat. No luck. The dog's owner, from her wheelchair in the kitchen, tries too, but the dog digs her haunches into the linoleum floor. Rule #1 of the Pet Peace of Mind training program specifies that pets must be transported in carriers, for safety reasons. This means I can't just throw the dog in the back of the car and speed away.

"How about tomorrow?" I say to the owner. "I can get a larger carrier and come by at the same time tomorrow."
"Let's do it today," she says, setting the brake on her wheelchair and regrouping for another round with the stubborn dog. Although I have more muscle to apply to the task, she clearly has the edge in determination. "Let's try it again," she insists.

And at that moment, I learned an important lesson. For me, tomorrow is just another day at the office. Yet for a patient in hospice care, tomorrow is a goal and not a given. Decisions about life and living, even seemingly minor ones, must be made today.

And, a few hours later, I bring home two clean and happy dogs to a grateful owner.

I can't think of any better description of what it means to be a hospice volunteer than the words Valerie uses to tell this story. It's funny how those of us who volunteer or work in hospice think we are there to teach others, to help them out, to make their lives easier. The truth is, patients and families and yes, even their pets, have so much more to teach us---about how to live, how to love and how to make today count. Please consider becoming a hospice volunteer--even if your local hospice doesn't have a Pet Peace of Mind program yet, you might be the person who helps make it happen!