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Dogs Provide Unique Comfort to Hospice Patients

By Leslie Smith, July 2016, Updated June 2021
Therapy dog Sophie on the terrace outside Gosnell Memorial Hospice House with (from left) Stefanie Fairchild, Hospice of Southern Maine Volunteer Coordinator; Nan Butterfield, PawPrints volunteer and Sophie’s handler; and Kelli Pattie, Hospice Southern Maine Director of Volunteer Services.

The sensation of fur between the fingers. The sound of toenails tip-tapping across the floor. The ability to offer love and acceptance without uttering a single word… For patients facing the end of life, the sheer presence of a dog can provide comfort and reassurance like nothing else.

Perhaps that’s why Hospice of Southern Maine has introduced PawPrints, a new program that brings trained therapy dogs bedside to visit patients receiving end-of-life care in their facility. Such programs are part of a growing trend around the country, and it’s easy to understand why. According to studies cited by the National Center for Health Research, companion animals can alleviate loneliness, anxiety, and depression in a way that humans — and even modern medicine — simply aren’t able to do.



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Sophie comforts a patient at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough, Maine.


 “Hospice care is all about making the most of the time we have when dealing with end of life,” said Hospice of Southern Maine CEO Daryl Cady. “For our patients, connecting with trained therapy dogs can help normalize and reduce the anxiety of being away from home.”

That’s no surprise to dog lovers. And as these types of programs become more common, animals may take on greater and more esteemed roles in institutions that were once reserved for imperfect two-leggers. 


Images courtsey Hospice of Southern Maine

Leslie Smith is a writer and long-time volunteer with Berkeley Animal Care Services and BADRAP. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and two rescue dogs, Uno and Maybe.