Zoe provides entertaining tricks , joy and soothing comfort to hospice patients.
(Part II–Hospice Volunteer, Diane Bykowski, translates for her special companion and Pet Connections partner, Zoe)
Five years ago, I was wandering the streets of South Phoenix, picked up by the county and taken to their shelter where my name soon showed up on what they called the “euthanasia” list. I had given up all hope for a happy life, one where I could use my gifts to comfort and entertain. When I was a puppy, my mother always told me that I had a heart of gold and could effortlessly seek out those in need of my company and I now so longed for an owner who could recognize those same qualities in me. My wish came true when Diane Bykowski, my new mom, adopted me.
Mom and I are not only best friends, but we also do everything together, including volunteering for the Hospice Pet Connections program. Sometimes we have quiet days at the nursing home and other times, we travel a distance and do a little show.
On the quiet days, I have learned to walk into a room, hop up on a lap or bed and just feel what that sick person might need. Sometimes they stroke my head and it makes me sleepy, other times I sense they want to have me close to their faces for some special kisses. Mostly though, I am there to comfort them and even to evoke memories of a dog they once knew. Many times they will tell Mom stories about their pets and about the love they brought to their lives.
Other days, I feel little a bit feisty and am ready to perform. One visit, I even presented a fashion show, modeling all the outfits I own. My patient provided commentary from her bed, and I would make a grand entrance from her dressing area in my pink Easter skirt, Red Velvet Christmas jacket or my Halloween witch costume. I had such fun watching her smile as I pranced up and down an imaginary catwalk. I heard her say it reminded her of her career and professional life, working for years in the world of couture fashion.
However, when I came out in the green costume with all the clovers on it, she hesitated, and said, “I can’t remember what holiday that is, but it’s when all the Irish people drink a lot!”
Not only do I show off my costumes, but I also can do lots of tricks. One time, I was with a veteran and I impressed him with my paw salute. He couldn’t always remember me from week to week (due to his Alzheimer’s disease), but when I would return, he always remembered my salute trick!
He would say, “I remember a dog that salutes just like you.”
I always felt so happy when I could make him smile.
Although I’m usually making visits to a single person, I sometimes get to visit their family and friends, too. This is my favorite kind of visit because I can sense somberness in the room when I enter, but soon everyone starts smiling and petting me and laughing at my tricks—it’s as if they have momentarily forgotten their sadness.
Smiles are wonderful to see, but I like laughter even more. Once, a woman I visited had an abacus sitting on the table right in front of me. She would push the bean one way with her finger, and my eyes would watch it travel the rod and stop. Then, I would push it back to her with my nose—she just laughed and laughed.
Whether I’m quietly sleeping on a warm lap, prancing around showing off my holiday attire, greeting everyone I see or performing tricks, my favorite thing is going home at the end of the day with Mom.
Without her, none of this rewarding work could be possible.