Animal programs

Denver Hospice hopes comfort animal teams will return

Comfort animals are often brought to schools, hospitals and hospices in Colorado and elsewhere. This had to stop during COVID.

DENVER — Prior to the COVID pandemic, volunteer teams of therapy animals were regularly on the guest registry at Denver Hospice Hospital in the Lowry neighborhood.

But since visiting restrictions were lifted and the pandemic began to wane, many of those volunteers have not returned.

“In general, our volunteer program has declined somewhat during the pandemic,” said Denver Hospice volunteer coordinator Kristen Coleman.

Coleman said many volunteers are older and may be immunocompromised, which makes them tired of returning to the building with their animals. Although the hospice has lifted restrictions on volunteer visits, it still requires volunteers to be screened for COVID symptoms and wear a mask. All Denver Hospice staff and volunteers who work there must be vaccinated.

“We’re starting to feel a bit normal again and volunteers want to give back — more than ever,” Coleman said.

Julie Schwarz has been a volunteer at Denver Hospice for years, mostly with a partner: Ollie Jingles.

Ollie is an 8 year old Brussels Griffon certified therapy dog.

“There were times when he walked me into a room,” Schwarz said. “And one of the times the hospice patient had been in bed for a few minutes and there was a woman sitting in the chair and he went straight to her.”

“The first time we volunteered, there was a little girl about 8 years old in the hallway crying and her family was inside. So we just sat on the floor and hung out. with her, so she was not alone.

Schwarz said she’s noticed fewer animal teams on volunteer sign-up sheets since she started returning to the hospice.

“I know there are people who have had dogs during the pandemic,” she said. “I feel like they are missing the opportunity to give back.”

Denver Hospice requires volunteers bringing therapy animals to have certification or intend to obtain one. You can find out more about volunteer opportunities here.

Denver Pet Partners, a local nonprofit that certifies therapy animals, said it has seen a drop in volunteers during the pandemic, although it says it has more volunteers now. If you want to use their training services, you can find more information here.

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