The dogs of the animal-assisted therapy program at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton bring peace of mind and a sense of calm to the patients and families they visit each day. Two special therapy dogs, Micron and Morgan, spent their lives bringing a moment of joy to those facing life-limiting illness and grief. While we’re saddened by their recent passing, we remember how they made a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. We’re grateful to them for their support of our mission.
Micron, a golden retriever and Labrador mix, was raised to be a service dog through Canine Companions.
“It was Canine Companions that gave this moose of a puppy, the largest in his litter, the ironic name of Micron,” said Donna Sword. “We spent the next 18 months together preparing him for the service dog training program, but he was later released for being too friendly. He was a canine social butterfly. So, we were offered the opportunity to adopt him.”
Animal-assisted therapy training is more for the handler than the dog, Sword explained. The sessions include learning how to identify signs of stress in dogs, how to handle different situations that may arise, and the importance of keeping therapy dogs safe, healthy and well-groomed.
“I’ve long admired the mission of Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton and how patients and families are treated with such extraordinary dignity and grace. We’ve experienced this extraordinary care ourselves with our own family members,” Sword said. “When Micron and I were certified as an animal-assisted therapy team, I felt like this could be a way to give back to such an incredible organization.”
Sword and Micron visited patients and families who requested a pet visitor, allowing them to visit the same patients many times and talk about memories throughout their lives and their own pets. They also volunteered with Camp Pathways, providing a peaceful presence for any child who needed a quiet moment with him.
“Micron’s golden presence was a distraction to both boredom and anxiety. He would break through negative thought spirals, providing peace of mind for least a little while,” Sword said. “Micron had that special canine sixth sense and could read people in ways I never understood. When he was around a group of people, he would know if anyone was stressed or unhappy and would go sit with them, making himself available to absorb their worries.”
She will always remember an experience at Camp Pathways when Micron was getting love from a group of admirers. He suddenly pulled away and looked over to a teen sitting alone. He walked over to the teen and leaned into him while the teen burrowed his hands into Micron’s fur.
“It was such a profound and private moment, and I felt privileged to be witness to it,” she said. “It still gives me chills. He always knew where he was needed.”
Chuck Wells was preparing to retire and envisioned a retirement of volunteering and being with dogs.
“I stopped by an adoption event and a woman showed me a picture of a dog named Chuck, and my name is Chuck, and I just fell in love,” Wells said. “She said he was something special and he really was. I always dreamed of and heard of these special things that dogs would do but I never imagined that I would have one myself.”
Wells renamed his newly adopted dog Morgan, a basset hound-German shepherd mix, and began training as soon as he was able. “Morgan was so easy to train, and he was such a perfect dog for therapy,” Wells said. “He had a way with people, and they fell for him.”
When Morgan graduated from training, Linda Simpson, volunteer coordinator at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, spoke at the graduation ceremony about volunteering as an animal-assisted therapy team. “I didn’t know where I was going to volunteer and seeing Linda speak, I signed up immediately,” Wells said. “It was the open door I needed at that moment of not knowing where I was going at the time.”
During visits with Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton patients at local nursing homes and patient homes, Morgan would enter the room and walk straight to the patient in bed for a visit. After a few minutes, Morgan would then go to each family member or friend who was also visiting at the time. Wells recalled another time when Morgan sat with a patient who was having a difficult time, spending more than three hours with them. The patient eventually was able to share their feelings. “If there was someone who was having a hard time, Morgan would go back to them after he’d done his rounds to everyone,” Wells said. “He could sense what people needed and really sense who needed him more.”
Wells would often pick up Morgan and put him on a chair next to patients so they could see him. One of Wells’ favorite memories of his visits with Morgan was their time visiting a patient over four years. “The patient and Morgan hit it off quickly. One Thursday we visited them at home and then on Saturday we were doing a regular nursing home visit, and Morgan dragged me through the entrance and down the hall,” Wells said. “The woman had been moved to the nursing facility and Morgan could sense that from the front door.”
During every visit to the patient, Morgan would go to the side of the bed she was facing to greet her with kisses and receive pets, a special moment in her day as well. “When she was transitioning and unresponsive, Morgan walked to the side of her bed, nudged her hand and laid down. He could tell something wasn’t right,” Wells said. “A little while later he moved and his collar jingled, and she sat up and asked Morgan for a kiss before laying back down. It may have been the last thing she said. Morgan meant so much to her.”
Wells said that every visit meant a lot to the duo, and that Morgan was a great companion for providing therapy to patients. “He would look at me across the room and, he knew what I was thinking. I could point and he knew what I wanted,” Wells said. “We were joined at the hip. It was truly divine intervention for him to come into my life at that time.”
We’re grateful to Micron and Morgan for their service as animal-assisted therapy dogs. If you are interested in volunteering as an animal-assisted therapy team, please visit our website for more information about volunteering: www.OhiosHospice.org/Volunteer