19-Year-Old Therapy Dog Gives Meaning to Terminal Patients
Baxter is a living teddy bear – he looks and feels like one, and brings as much comfort as one. This 19-year-old therapy dog can no longer get around for himself, and has to be wheeled around in a wagon, but that doesn’t stop him from bringing happiness and a little love to elderly and terminal patients in the hospital.
“This is Baxter, my 19 ½ -year-old certified therapy dog, who works at San Diego Hospice in the Institute for Palliative Medicine,” explained author Melissa Joseph. “It’s an in-patient care center where people are at the end of their life. Baxter enters a room in his little red wagon because he can no longer walk, and he bonds with patients, many of whom cannot walk as well.”
Melissa hoists her 37-pound teddy bear onto patients’ beds if they would like him up there. Sometimes he just snuggles, and other times he gives smooches that seem to last forever. Some patients have no one else to visit them, and Baxter is a beacon of light in an otherwise dreary stage in their lives.
“There is an uncanny congruity that develops – Baxter, at the end of his life, the patient, at the end of their life,” Melissa said. “Baxter truly is the perfect, world’s best therapy dog. When he gets in bed with a patient, or with a family member on the sofa, something happens in the room. The pain of this race, the tears, dry into smiles, and all of a sudden, for a moment, you would think, that everybody was alive. Really alive.”
“Baxter just seems to know how to provide the care that people need, and he started licking the patient’s face. Licking, licking, licking, and didn’t stop licking, for, I don’t know, maybe half an hour or more,” said Lisa McCollough, the chaplain of San Diego Hospice. “The family was so touched, and so moved, and cried and laughed, and the patient died later that night. So in his last hours, Baxter provided the kind of care he needed. The best care he gives.”
“I’m happy to say that though Baxter is the age he is, he still has this ability to bring comfort and love at the end of his life,” Melissa concluded.