Unique Hospice Volunteer Team Comforts With Presence — and Fur

Jayne Boeding hadn't planned on becoming a volunteer until life slowed down. But then golden retriever Brady joined her family, and Jayne immediately saw Brady's pet therapy potential.

Jayne Boeding and her golden retriever, Brady, walked to the door of the patient's room and peered inside. The woman was sleeping. Or appeared to be. Then her husband noticed Brady. "Oh, look, there's a dog here to see you," he said to his wife. "The woman's eyes popped right open," says Jayne. "It was magical."

That magic moment happened on Jayne's first day as a volunteer with the hospice program at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing. It was a day she'd planned to put off until the "retirement chapter" of her life. She was already busy, working as a physical therapist and raising two school-aged children with her husband. Then Brady joined the family, an incredibly good-natured dog with, "a love tank that's never full," Jayne tells us. "She soaks up human contact and needs a hand on her all the time. She loves people more than life."

Jayne suspected Brady would be a great fit for the hospice program's pet therapy branch. The program coordinator met Brady and agreed. So Jayne decided to move up one element of her retirement plan. She and Brady enrolled in a three-day training program for hospice volunteers and were soon visiting patients together. "When we go into a room, I'm the sidekick," Jayne says. "Brady is a bridge to people. She opens up conversations about pets they've had and helps me develop a rapport."

Brady's also an expert at knowing when to just be. "During training, the leader said dogs have a different ability to sense things," Jayne says. "They're intuitive. They know what humans need." And sometimes, Jayne says, that's simply companionship. "The greatest gift of hospice is just being with a person so they don't feel alone," Jayne says. "Just being with a person so they feel connected." That's a gift she says patients — and their families — appreciate. "Families don't always live close anymore, and it can be hard for people to be with loved ones," she tells us. "It means so much to families to know someone is coming to sit with their family member."

Jayne says volunteering means a lot to Brady and her as well. "When I put Brady's volunteer vest on, she knows it's time to go do her work and sits up really tall," Jayne says. "She likes having adventures and having that human connection. She loves seeing new people. It fills her tank."

Jayne has discovered it fills her tank as well. "It can feel like life is too busy to volunteer," she says. "It can be easy to put off, to say, 'I can't do this now; my family needs me too much.' But every time I volunteer, I come back a better person. I come back a better mom. I think, 'I wasn't just a taker today. I was a giver.'"

If you feel called to become a giver, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System have opportunities for volunteers in hospice and other areas. Learn more here. Then give us your thoughts below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.

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