Comfort Animals (and their handlers) Returning to The Denver Hospice – More Needed
Before the COVID pandemic, volunteer teams of therapy animals and their handlers regularly visited The Denver Hospice’s inpatient care center located at 8299 E. Lowry Boulevard in Denver. As the pandemic begins to wane, volunteers and therapy animals are returning but more are needed. “In general, our volunteer program took a bit of a dip during the pandemic,” said Kristen Coleman, the volunteer coordinator for Denver Hospice. Coleman said many of the volunteers are older and may be immunocompromised, making them weary about coming back to the building with their animals.
As CDC guidance has changed, previous restrictions have lessened on volunteer visitations. Currently volunteers and visitors continue to be screened for COVID symptoms and wear a mask per CDC guidance. All staff members of The Denver Hospice and any volunteers who work there must be vaccinated. “We’re starting to feel a bit normal again and volunteers want to give back—more than ever,” Coleman said.
Julie Schwarz has volunteered at Denver Hospice for years, most of the time with a partner: Ollie Jingles. Ollie is an 8-year-old Brussels Griffon who is certified as a therapy dog. “There have been times that he’s actually taken me into a room,” Schwarz said. “And one of the times the hospice patient had passed just within minutes in the bed and there was a woman sitting in the chair and he went right over to her.”
“The first time we ever volunteered there was a little girl about 8-years-old in the hall crying and her family was inside. So, we just sat on the floor and hung out with her, so she wasn’t alone.”
Schwarz said she’s noticed fewer animal teams on the volunteer sign-up sheet since she began returning to the hospice. “I know there are people who got dogs during the pandemic,” she said. “I feel like they’re missing out on the opportunity to give back.”
The Denver Hospice requires volunteers bringing therapy animals to have a certification or have intent to get one. You can find out more about volunteer opportunities at https://thedenverhospice.org/giving/volunteer
Denver Pet Partners, a local nonprofit that certifies therapy animals, said it has seen a slump in volunteers during the pandemic, though they said they have more volunteers now. If you’re interested in using their training services you can find more information at https://www.denverpetpartners.org