Collinsville, Ill. – Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis recently named Unity Hospice Pet Therapy Volunteers Marcia Bedard and Sue Ellen Choate, and their therapy dogs Indy and Kudos, as the 2016 recipients of the Volunteer of the Year Award. Indy, a Golden Retriever, and Kudos, a Labrador Retriever, are members of Unity Hospice’s “Paws for Patients” pet therapy program and visit patients residing in Collinsville, Ill., and surrounding Metro East communities.
Complimentary programs in hospice, such as pet therapy, are used as a supportive service to complement traditional medicine. Unity Hospice volunteers and their therapy dogs help hospice patients to feel wanted and appreciated at a time when they find themselves feeling alone, when many of them have lost the comfort of family and friends.
Therapy animals have been used for many years in hospice to comfort patients. The bond between humans and animals has been studied for decades, and has been shown to improve quality of life mentally, physically and emotionally for these individuals. Research has shown that simply cuddling or petting an animal can reduce anxiety and stress levels, leading to lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Perhaps the most powerful benefit is the emotional support provided by therapy animals. For instance, patients who grew up with animals as pets, but are no longer able to care for them on their own, are given the opportunity to relive that love and connection they once felt.
“I’ve seen first hand the joy that our ‘Paws for Patients’ dogs, Indy and Kudos, bring to our patients,” states Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis Volunteer Coordinator Darcie Carr. “The response is immediate when Sue Ellen and Marcia walk into facilities flanked by their dogs. As an added bonus, the dogs are usually dressed for the occasion in fun costumes. You can see the passion that Sue Ellen, Marcia and the dogs have for wanting to bring comfort to our patients here at Unity Hospice.”
Long before she had Indy, Bedard began her dog training years in the United States Air Force where she served as a dog handler, trainer and kennel master. She went on to volunteer as a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind for nearly 20 years, before she eventually began volunteering with Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis.
Choate began her involvement with training in 1998 as a volunteer puppy raiser with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an organization that provides service dogs to people with disabilities. In total, Choate has raised 13 puppies; two for Leader Dogs for the Blind and she is currently raising her eleventh puppy for CCI.
Bedard and Choate are current residents of O’Fallon, Ill. They have been making pet therapy visits to Unity Hospice patients for three years. In addition to hospice work, Bedard and Choate bring Indy and Kudos to local hospitals, libraries, schools, military groups and various community service groups.
About Unity Hospice Volunteer Program
Unity Hospice volunteers are a part of a highly coordinated care team that is designed to provide patients and their families with high quality, compassionate hospice and palliative care. Volunteers are specially trained to provide social and emotional support through individualized programs including personalized music therapy, comfort from pets, veteran honoring ceremonies and more. Volunteers are provided to help patients with “the little things in life” that mean the most.
Nearly four decades ago, the hospice movement began as a grassroots volunteer-based service. Today, the volunteer aspect of hospice still exists. As stated by the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), all hospices must meet a 5% volunteer to staff hour ratio. While many hospices struggle to meet the 5% requirement, Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis has reached as high as 74% volunteer hours in the state of Illinois and 127% in the state of Missouri.
For more information on the services offered at Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis, please call 888-394-1055.
About Unity Hospice
Founded in 1992, Unity Hospice is a family owned and operated hospice and palliative care company committed to providing comprehensive care, support and education to people facing a life-limiting illness, those who care for them and the community. Unity Hospice offers care of the highest quality by licensed and competent staff in accordance with laws & regulations and accepted standards of practice. With the dedication to make their patients’ days comfortable, Unity Hospice provides an interdisciplinary approach to each individual and family, in which they go above and beyond everyday to meet their needs.