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A Special Request

A Delta Society Pet Partner Program


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A Special Request

by Katie Costello

We stepped off of the elevator onto the fifth floor at St. Elizabeth Hospital, prepared to enter the cardiac unit.  Vickie and I reviewed our goals.  We were there to make a suffering family smile, and to show an ailing patient unconditional love.  Vickie happens to be much better at this than I am.  

I placed Vickie in the chair next to the bed, and she sat quietly.  Frank reached over and petted her gently.  Tears came to his eyes.   His family talked to Vickie and I about dogs they had owned, and the powerful healing animals provide.  Yes, Vickie isn’t your average hospital volunteer, she is my four-year-old black, standard poodle, and Delta Society Pet Partner. 

During weekly visits to the hospital as part of the K-9’s for Compassion program, I have experienced complete strangers becoming friends in an instant.  I could feel the healing in Frank’s family while Vickie was in the room.  I left the hospital that evening smiling. This particular visit healed me as well.  The little acts of visiting with my animal team member makes my heart dance that “I” was actually able to impact a stranger.  Dogs can offer such unconditional love, in a clinical setting that is often cold and depressing.   

The following day, I called handler Cheryl Soyka and explained that Frank’s patient representative called requesting that K-9’s for Compassion teams visit.  I asked Cheryl to take Emily, her Golden Retriever, to visit Frank, knowing that Frank had once owned a golden retriever.   I received the following email later that day.

“I had a great day.  I went to the hospital today.  The staff and energy on the fifth floor is so positive and spiritual, I could have stayed there all day.  You could feel the healing.  Frank’s wife is a fantastic, warm, loving lady.  I enjoyed watching her with both Frank and his roommate Roy.  It was so powerful for me to see what a gentle soul she is.  She was taking care of both of these men and made sure they both had a visit with Emily.  Both Frank and Roy really loved and appreciated their visit with Emily. Emily sat in a chair next to both of them.  Frank and his wife are two people I will be forever grateful to have met.  Thank you for having me visit them.”

 The next day Vickie and I went to visit Frank again, this time taking my camera knowing that this picture would mean the world to Frank’s family.  The spunky man whom we visited only two days prior was much weaker and very tired. I asked Frank if I could put Vickie up on the bed next to him, and he shook his weary head, “yes”.  Patty Rush, Public Relations at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital was present for this visit, with tears in her eyes, ready to take the pictures.  Frank smiled and petted Vickie.  Frank’s wife couldn’t stop hugging her, and then hugged me. As she hugged me I could feel some of the tension leaving her body.  She smiled warmly, and I felt for a second that I was support that she needed at that very moment.  As Patty snapped the pictures, the room was full of smiles, and for one small second, the pain that penetrated the room was gone.  I left a picture of Vickie for Frank to keep.

 When we were leaving the room, Frank’s wife hugged me, whispering “I owe you”.  I am going to make a silhouette of Vickie for you.  I made a poodle silhouette once; it was beautiful.  We have made a heart connection, and I am forever grateful.”  I told her she did not owe me anything.  I said I would love to have a silhouette of Vickie, but that she had touched my heart as much as I had touched hers.

 Frank had dialysis the following day, so we didn’t visit, and shortly after he was moved into ICU.  That evening we were told that 84-year-old Frank had passed away, leaving behind three children and his beautiful wife.

 Cheryl and I decided to go to the funeral.  Patty Rush called the funeral home asking permission for Emily and Vickie to come too, explaining that our dogs are tested through Delta Society, a national registry for Animal Assisted Activity and Animal Assisted Therapy.  She explained that we had been visiting Frank and his family daily before Frank’s death.  The funeral home agreed, understanding how well mannered our dogs are.

Upon entering the funeral home the first person we saw was Frank’s daughter.  She gasped and said, “Oh my!  We were just talking about the dogs and how happy they made my Dad in his final days!”  Mrs. Sole spotted us walking toward her.  She hugged us very tightly.  Fighting through tears she embraced the dogs and thanked us, explaining how much she needed them.  They were her medicine to get through one of the most difficult days of her life.

Frank’s son approached us and said, “You took the last pictures of my Father while he was alive.  We will gladly pay you any amount of money for those pictures”.  I pulled out the copies of the pictures that we had brought for the family to enjoy.  There is not enough money in the world to buy the expression on his face, and to think that my wonderful dog Vickie allowed that beautiful moment to happen was awe-inspiring. 

  “You guys don’t normally do this, do you?” asked Mrs. Sole.  Cheryl and I explained that this was the first time we had ever taken our dogs to the funeral home.  She cried saying she was so honored that we did this for her.

 You could hear the people sitting in the pews saying things like, “What well-mannered dogs”, or “How beautiful they are”.  It was quite an experience.

Mrs. Sole called a week after Frank passed away.  She wanted to be part of visiting with us.  Though she doesn’t currently own an animal, she is going to begin visiting with us, and assisting the handlers.  And so the cycle is complete, you give only to receive, only to give again.


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Last updated: December 29, 2005.