Archive for the ‘pet therapy’ category

Comfort without being asked

April 19, 2016

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager



I met the sweetest volunteer the other week. He had truly soul-searching eyes and an uncanny ability to know exactly what patients needed from him, including how he could comfort them, without being asked.

His name was Ollie and he was an eight-year old Labradoodle.

National Volunteer Week was last week and HPCCR made special efforts to recognize the amazing men and women who offer their time and love to the individuals (and their families) under our care. But what about the animals who do the same thing for our organization? It’s definitely harder to show our appreciation. But I think they know; they must certainly feel the intense adoration coming their way from everyone who meets them.

Pet therapy dogs are brilliant. Ollie knows the difference between when he can “be a dog” when it’s time to “go to work”. His owner, Robin, in fact uses those very words (“It’s time to go to work, Ollie!”) when she’s ready to load up and head to Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster, where you can find them each Wednesday afternoon.


Ollie and his owner, Robin

Robin told me some amazing stories. But one of them really resonated with me and almost brought me to tears. She told me about the time when, after a patient had died, the family (who had particularly loved Ollie) requested that he participate in the ceremonial procession of walking behind the body to the waiting vehicle outside. This family had a long tradition of waving as they said goodbye and they all wanted to wave one last time to their loved one. As the vehicle drove away, all of the family members were waving and crying. Then they turned and looked down (in shock) to see Ollie lift his paw as well. Robin was not surprised. “He totally gets it. You don’t have to say anything.”

Ollie seems to sense when and where the patients need him. He’s been known to jump up on beds but he can also tell when lying on the floor next to them is the best way to offer comfort. He’s always calm, always full of love, and he never fails to bring a smile to at least one face in the room.

I watched Ollie in action that day. We entered the room and, I tell you, the entire mood shifted. Faces lit up, questions were asked about him, and stories were offered up about their own dogs. There was hardly a second when a hand was not on Ollie’s head or stroking his unbelievably soft ears.

And when it was time to go, he knew that too. He moved on to the next room, ready to offer exactly the kind of comfort they needed. Without being asked.

For more information about pet therapy or volunteering with Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, visit our website, or call us at 704.375.0100.



(Wo)man’s best friend

August 22, 2013

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager

Nola, right after she plopped down beside Allison's brick

Nola, right after she plopped down beside Allison’s brick

It’s been said that the dog is man’s best friend.  Well, apparently a dog can be a woman’s best friend too.  And I’ve got the story to prove it. 

But first I have to tell you about Allison.  Allison was a patient under our care who spent her last days at Levine & Dickson Hospice House –  Huntersville.  She was relatively young (only 50) and single, but had hundreds of close friends spread throughout the country.  She was one of those people who just oozed light and life.  She relished the outdoors, spending most of her free time hiking, camping, skiing, mountain biking, or sailing.  Allison also had an adventurous spirit and loved to travel (ergo those close friends around the country).  What’s more, she was kind-hearted and generous, exuding a positive attitude that couldn’t be dampened — even by cancer.

And because she had such a generous and nurturing soul (as well as that adventurous spirit), she ended up traveling to New Orleans from Charlotte right after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Just so she could somehow help.  See, Allison also happened to be a general contractor, a career she passionately pursued after spending many years behind a desk in various corporate roles.  After getting her contractor’s license, she built her own home repair and remodeling business here in Charlotte. 

But when she saw the overwhelming devastation in New Orleans, Allison felt compelled to act.  She knew her skills could change the circumstances of many residents whose homes were destroyed.  So Allison and her generous spirit took off to New Orleans to find a way to help.

Now, the story was already good, but this is where it gets great.  So Allison was in New Orleans, going street by street, making repairs, sleeping on floors, literally improving lives.  She was there for months.  And then one day, she came upon a stray dog.  Allison The Kind Hearted, of course, fed the dog — a sweet little female yellow lab.  The dog started following her from house to house, street to street.  Eventually, it became obvious that this dog was coming home to Charlotte with her.  Allison named her Nola after the popular acronym for that fated city.  (NO for New Orleans and LA for the state.)

Nola lived happily with Allison until Allison passed away at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville this past January. 

After her passing, Allison’s family decided to purchase a memorial brick to be embedded in the labyrinth at LDHH-H.  The group of friends and family that gathered in Huntersville for the brick dedication ceremony in April included Nola and her new “owner”, Sharon.  Nola was extremely quiet and well-behaved during the ceremony.  Afterward, however, she was a bit agitated.  She started walking in circles around the labyrinth, like she was looking for somewhere to nestle down.  She finally found the perfect place —  a spot right next to Allison’s brick, her paw seemingly pointing to the name of the woman who saved her life back in New Orleans years ago.

Coincidence?  Doubters and skeptics might think so.  But I don’t.  I think that animals, especially dogs, are sensitive creatures who have a delicate sense of feeling; an innate intuition that directs their behavior and compels them to act in ways that we simply can’t comprehend.  I think Nola could feel the spot where Allison’s energy pulsed the strongest.  That brick may not have had Allison’s scent, but it had her spirit.  And Allison’s spirit is what attracted Nola to her in the first place.  It apparently still does.  And now Allison’s spirit has a “forever home” in the labyrinth at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville.  That’s what Nola showed us.

Sometimes it’s best not to ask why, but to relish in the small, amazing moments.  Don’t you think?

If you are interested in purchasing a memorial brick to honor a loved one, visit our website or contact Mary  Jo Carrier at 704.335.3536.  Personalized, engraved bricks may be embedded in the labyrinth at Levine & Dickson Hospice House –  Huntersville or in the garden path at Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster.

It had to be you

June 11, 2013

by Bill Hamelau, HPCCR Pet Therapy Volunteer

rowdy2Several days ago Rowdy and I made a pet therapy visit to one of our assigned patients in the memory loss unit of a local assisted living facility.  After a really nice visit with our patient, we approached other residents in the sitting area who we’ve gotten to know and who love Rowdy.  Jane and Alice (not their real names) were sitting side by side on a small couch as they usually are.  These are two proper little ladies in their 80’s, each with a twinkle in her eye.

I got down on one knee if front of them and carefully held Rowdy so they could both pet him.  As they do each time, they tell me about dogs they had growing up and how handsome Rowdy is.  Jane always looks at Rowdy and says “You’re handsome and you know it.”  Without fail, Alice always says “My father loved dogs.”

During our visit they always ask several times “How old is Rowdy?” and “What’s his name?”  Thus I am reminded why they are under memory loss care.  Even after the fourth time they ask, I always respond like it was a brand new question.  They could ask a hundred times and I would be pleased to answer.

While kneeling in front of them with Rowdy, a person on TV started singing “It Had To Be You”, a classic from the 1940’s.  Without prompting, Jane and Alice started singing along in soft delicate voices.  Then I was caught by surprise.  When Alice was singing the phrase, “It Had To Be You” she pointed at Rowdy on the “You.”  With that as a sort of cue, they both began actually singing to Rowdy.  The pure sweetness and spontaneity of this moment were, at once, overwhelmingly joyous and poignant.  Alice and Jane will never know how full my heart was when Rowdy and I left that day… but I always will.

Are you still within the sound of my voice?

February 6, 2013

by Bill Hamelau, HPCCR pet therapy volunteer

Glenn Campbell and Jimmy WebbThis morning my dog, Rowdy, and I were making a pet therapy visit to a new patient in the memory unit of  one of the local care communities.  Mary* was sitting in a chair with her eyes closed and hands clasped.  I got down on one knee and started to ask questions to see if I might get a reaction.  “I heard you liked dogs Mary.  Rowdy’s right here to visit with you.  Would you like to pet him?…  I heard you were in the Navy?…  I heard that you grew up in Hilton Head ?”  She continued to keep her eyes closed but I thought I saw a faint flicker of recognition and a slight tilt of her head in response to one of the questions.  And, then again, maybe I just wanted to.

On the way home I thought about our visit and wondered if I made a connection and what was going on inside Mary’s mind.  Right at that moment, an old Glen Campbell love song, “Still Within The Sound of My Voice,” started playing in my head.  It perfectly captured the feelings and thoughts of the situation I had just experienced with Mary and other memory loss patients.  More importantly, I thought, the words in this song poignantly, painfully, and lovingly captured what the families of memory loss patients must experience.  Here are the complete lyrics to this song, written by Jimmy Webb:


Still Within The Sound Of My Voice

Where have you gone
My darling one
Are you on your own
Are you having fun
Is there someone to hold
When you need it bad
Is it uncontrolled
Like the love we had
Does a day go by
Like a memory
Do you ever try
To remember me
In an automobile
Or a crowded bar
Well I hope you’re alright
Wherever you are

And if you’re still within the sound of my voice
Over some radio
I just want you to know
You were always my only choice
And wherever you go
That I still love you so
If you’re still within the sound of my voice

In the dead of night
Do you hear me call
Something’s quite not right
No one’s there at all
Did you make a mistake
Was it in your head
Or was it merely me talking
To your heart instead

And if you’re still within the sound of my voice
Over some radio
I just want you to know
That it always made me rejoice
Just to have you so near
There’s a place for you here
If you’re still within the sound of my voice

I am calling like the echo
Of a passing train that cries
One last time before it fades into
The distant hills and dies
I am sending out a message
Like a ship out on the sea in distress
But only you can send a lifeline out to me

Are you still within the sound of my voice
Why don’t you let me know
I just can’t let you go
If it’s wrong then I have no choice
But to love you until
I no longer have the will
If you’re still within the sound of my voice

I am calling like the echo
Of a passing train that cries
One last time before it fades into
The distant hills and dies            

It may be entirely coincidental that so many of the lyrics of this song apply to what families, volunteers, and hospice staff experience with memory loss patients.  Actually, the lyrics can apply to the passing of all patients in hospice care as well.  When read slowly as a poem, it allows you to reflect on your own personal situation and you can select those phrases which speak to you.   I also recommend that you go to YouTube where you can listen to the actual song by Glen Campbell.  It is haunting and moving and will go straight to your heart but, for me, it offers solace and defines what I am dealing with. 

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the patient.

Pictures that tell our stories

August 9, 2012

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager

So I promised more volunteer stories, didn’t I?  Along with great pictures.  Well, I’m going to keep the copy brief because my creative energy is not at its peak (these Olympic-filled late nights are killing me!  Why can’t coverage start at a more reasonable 7pm?!)  And anyway, Chelsea Bren’s pictures are so awesome that I will let them do the talking this time. 

We’ll begin with the Meyers family.  Let’s see, there’s Jody, Charlie, and Lily.  Jody is the mom, of course.  Charlie is her son.  Lily is their adorable 14-year old poodle, a certified therapy dog.  And they are all volunteers at Levine & Dickson Hospice House.  Jody and Lily visit the patients and Charlie, a rising senior at the Cannon School in Concord, helps fill the bird feeders.  (There are about 20 of them throughout the grounds, so it’s no small task!).  Charlie has also spearheaded two separate “snackraisers” — at his school and in his neighborhood — to help refill the basket of goodies that provides a quick “pick me up” for visitors of our patients if they’re feeling “peckish”.  (That’s a great British word, isn’t it?  Probably heard it during Olympic coverage.  But I digress.)  This, my friends, is a great family.  Caring, considerate, and united in their efforts to support a wonderful local resource.

And then there’s another dynamic couple, Betty and George Rich.  They moved to the Charlotte region from Columbus, Ohio and they volunteer together at LDHH, visiting patients and delighting the staff with their infectious enthusiasm.  They have been married for 52 years; the fact that they still want to do things together is a testament to their strong union.  (Hmmmm. . . .the couple that volunteers together, stays together?)  Betty’s parents were both under hospice care back in Ohio, so she has a distinct appreciation for the services provided by our hospice house.  Patients are always happy to see Betty and George walk through the door.  And we are happy that they chose our organization to be the beneficiary of their time and talents.

Levine & Dickson  Hospice House is truly blessed to have sensitive and devoted volunteers who genuinely care about their fellow human beings.  Our volunteers probably don’t even realize the full impact they have on the patients.  A new face, someone to talk to, the opportunity to take their minds off of any nagging worries for even a few minutes — all of these things are inexpressibly precious.  Which, now that I think about it, is also a good phrase to describe our volunteers.

So enjoy the photos.  I’ll be getting back to the Olympic coverage.  After I take a nap. 

Lily, therapy dog extraordinaire

Charlie Meyers filling one of many bird feeders

George and Betty Rich bring happiness to a patient


A martini toast to say goodbye

July 26, 2012

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Electronic Communications Manager

I’m going to tell y’all something now about myself that I’m a little ashamed to admit: I’m not a huge fan of poetry.  There.  I said it.  That might not seem like a big deal to you, but when you do a lot of writing for your job, you’re kind of obligated to appreciate the finer nuances of verse.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t count out all poets (Shel Silverstein comes to mind, if that tells you anything about my tolerance).  But I don’t have volumes of poetry by my nightstand either.

Every once in a while, though, I read something that touches me.  And yesterday I was sent a poem that one of our volunteers wrote.  Do you remember Bill and Rowdy, our awesome human/dog pet therapy team?  Well, Bill Hamelau had a dear friend, Velma, who died recently (under hospice care) and he was fortunate to visit her a few days before she passed away.  He was able to spend a precious few hours catching up, reliving memories, and making new memories that would have to suffice in the future.  At Velma’s request, they shared a martini toast to say goodbye.  And as such, a poem was born.

Reading it brought tears to my eyes.  And the second time I read it too.  Even in my limited connoisseurship (it’s a real word, I looked it up), I knew this was no “I cannot go to school today” poem about little Peggy Anne McKay (please tell me you get the reference here).  This was profound and graceful.  Sweet.  And so sad.  Ultimately, it’s a wonderful testimonial to a beautiful friendship that I felt compelled to share.  Thank you, Bill.  

Velma’s Death   

 A void

A vacuum


Darkness, hollow, cold.

Your death,

no surprise, but still.

Our bittersweet goodbye,

two precious hours,

tears, laughter.

Memories sweet, recalled

A Martini toast

to twenty-five years.

Surrogate Mother?

favorite Aunt ?

Dear friend.

One of a kind

Never again

“So special,”

you whispered,

“so special”

By Bill Hamelau, July 19, 2012

A dog who loves others

May 26, 2011

The author wearing an HPCCR bandana around her neck

by Aspen*, HPCCR pet therapy dog

My name is Aspen and I was rescued at 4 months.  I became a therapy dog when I was two years old.  I’ve  had a lot of rewarding experiences with hospice patients so I thought I would share a few stories with you on this blog.

On one of my visits, a woman was really upset and moaning very loudly.  So I put my paws on the side of the bed.  When the woman began to pet me, she became calm and started to talk to us.  The nurse told my mom that it was the first time she had spoken a word.  The room was full of staff members who were completely amazed with what they had just witnessed.
You see, there are times when humans stop interacting with other humans and that is when we pet therapy animals take on the role.  We give lots of unconditional love and just seem to understand what the humans need.
We visited one particular woman for almost a year.  No matter what kind of day she was having, everything was always better when we came.  We made a connection and she would talk and laugh with us.  Her face would always light up with smiles when she saw us coming.
My mom and I love making people smile and making their days brighter.  Sometimes people ask for me by my name, Aspen, or they’ll ask for the white dog that prays.  That’s because I have been taught many tricks and one of those tricks is that I can “say my prayers”.  We love to help people, and prayers seem to be the trick for everyone.

My mom says, “Aspen is an angel to us all.”  I just say, “To be loved, you must love others.”

*Special thanks to Elaine Allman, HPCCR volunteer and Aspen’s mom, for helping Aspen write this article.