Furry friends visit terminally ill patients - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Furry friends visit terminally ill patients

Willys "Jeepy" Kuoha with Duke (foreground) and Coco Willys "Jeepy" Kuoha with Duke (foreground) and Coco
Natalie Lukashevsky Natalie Lukashevsky
Dr. Michael Duick Dr. Michael Duick
Claire Santos Claire Santos

A team of "Joy Ambassadors" has been fanning out across the islands to bring a lot of light to the lives of seniors and the sick. They're not specially-trained. They don't have tons of experience, but when it comes to their volunteer work, they do have to know how to put on the dog.

Seven year old pet "therapist", Duke, knows he's got a job to do. The King Cavalier is visiting the bedside of Willys "Jeepy" Kuoha - a 64 year old cancer patient who's terminally-ill.

"He just lets them touch him and sits there. He's just happy doing that," says Duke's owner Kathy Vogt.

Duke is one of four ambassadors assigned to Islands Hospice today, and teammembers include Jake, a Golden Retriever, Coco, and Kanoe, a Shiba Inu. They're volunteers with the Hawaiian Humane Society's Pet Visitation program.

HHS Community Outreach Coordinator, Natalie Lukashevsky, says "The majority of it is senior centers or rest homes, assisted living or independent living. I mean, there's just a really wide variety - hospitals."

The Pet Visitation program is about one of about 30 programs through the Hawaiian Humane Society - where they go out into the community for outreach. Volunteers - mostly dogs, but cats and other small animals, too - go through obedience and temperament assessments and make a minimum of three visits a month. Jeepy keeps a picture of his beloved dog, Mika, nearby and loves the idea of pet visits.

"It works. You know, psychologically, it works for people (who are) already committed. They cannot go anywhere else but the hospital," says Jeepy.  And Jeepy's doctor wishes he could bottle the feel-good experience.

Dr. Michael Duick explains, "People who have been, perhaps, sad, not very engaged, when a dog sits next to their bed or in their lap, their eyes light up. They smile. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it's pretty powerful thing."

Neighbors nicknamed Coco "The Smiling Dog", and it turns out, she has a knack for this.

"I realized she had this gift of bringing good spirits to people," says Coco's owner, Claire Santos. "Coco loves people. When she met our patient here today, she just licked his face for a whole minute.  She had so much fun!"

It's pure, unconditional love that helps comfort a patient's final days.

If you and your four-legged friend would like to volunteer for the Pet Visitation program, head to the hawaiianhumane.org.

And don't forget about the Hawaiian Humane Society's Petwalk 2012 - coming up on Sunday, October 7th at Magic Island.

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