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Therapy Dog Boosts Hopes of Hospice Patients

Updated: Friday, August 29 2014, 02:50 PM CDT

A trained companion is what many would call their dog. But there's one, unlike others, tasked with brightening the spirits of people who are nearing the end of their life.

Sheba, a black Labrador Retriever, has a gentle, sweet temperament, painted purple toenails and a wagging tail. She spends part of her days visiting the elderly in hospice.

One of those patients is 78-year old Joanne Trago, who is battling cancer. She moved into Heritage Health almost a year ago. She says sheba's always welcome.

"I think she would enlighten anybody's day. I think any pet would," Trago said.

Sheba's owner, Brother Stephen Bissler, got Sheba about six years ago. She's a rescue dog from central Missouri.

"Sheba's perfect the way she is. doesn't matter what her background is," said Bissler. Sheba lives with Bissler and the Fransciscan brothers. He credits a lot of her good behavior to her previous owners.

Not just any dog can handle being a therapy dog. Sheba is certified through therapy dogs international. She also passed the test as a canine good citizen with the American Kennel Club; and spends about 20 minutes with a dozen people on a regular basis.

"I think the biggest thing i notice is they relax," Bissler said.

Memorial Home Services hospice program has about 80 volunteers, who visit hospice residents. Many have talents they share, whether it's writing journals, photography or bringing homemade goods; but Brother Stephen is the only one who has a pet.

Becky Gabany organizes volunteers for the program and said, "Hospice patients have a terminal diagnosis and they've been doctor certified they probably have six months or less to live so having a volunteer provide companionship or a break to a family or a visit from a pet certainly increases their comfort and quality of life at the end of life."

Memorial's hospice volunteer program is always looking for more volunteers and you don't need a therapy dog, to do so! If you're interested in getting involved, click here.

    studies have shown -- dog owners typically have a lower blood pressure, less stress.. and are less likely to have a heart attack.

Therapy Dog Boosts Hopes of Hospice Patients

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