The elderly man lay quietly in the bed, seemingly oblivious to the activity around him: the nurses administering pain medication, adjusting his linens, wiping his face and hands. He was dying alone, having outlived his family and friends.
Then the dog entered the room. The golden retriever was lifted onto the bed, curling up quietly next to the man’s frail body. At first, there was no indication that the man was aware of the gentle, simple closeness of the dog. But then he lifted his arm and passed it along the soft fur and the strong form of the animal beside him. Peacefully, he drew his last breath.
The UCLA People-Animal Connection (PAC) has long recognized the value of trained therapy dogs in delivering joy and comfort to patients. Over the past year, PAC has been exploring the importance and value of therapy dogs specifically to palliative and end-of-life patients. The soothing presence of a calm, well-trained animal can provide a level support that a human may not be able to deliver. The result: PAC’s Palliative Pups.
A team of PAC volunteers has offered to be on call to the Palliative Care Department at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center for the times when a palliative care patient needs the nonjudgmental and comforting presence of a dog. The volunteers and their dogs have gone through the PAC screening and training process as well as an additional level of preparation to become the Palliative Care Volunteers and members of the PAC Palliative Pups team. They visit patients as part of the No One Dies Alone program, providing support not only to the patients, but also their loved ones, including children of dying parents.