How Volunteer Pet therapy dogs are bringing comfort to hospice patients in Metro Detroit

by Anne Snabes

For over two months, hospice patient Virginia Favero has been getting occasional visits from Sam the beagle-mix, providing her with a canine companion. Sam isn’t her dog, but he’s there to bring her comfort.

Sam’s owner, Rachel Marshall, typically has the dog sit on a black folding chair, so Favero can reach him from her recliner chair in the Pomeroy Living community in Northville. Favero often pets Sam’s ears, scratches his head and wants to give him treats, Marshall said.

“It really warms her heart when he comes,” said Lynn Favero, Virginia Favero’s daughter.

Sam is one of two dogs in health care company AccentCare’s Loyal Friends Pet program, in which pets visit hospice patients in Michigan. AccentCare provides hospice care to patients in senior living facilities, at home, and in other settings, bringing the dogs to patients where they are. The pet program started in 2012.

Mary Biber, AccentCare’s volunteer coordinator, said pets have been used for years to reduce anxiety. She said research has shown that pets can decrease blood pressure, for example.

“The warm, furry touch of a dog, to, like, hold or pet, it can really make a world of difference to people who might not enjoy other physical contact,” she said. “They can be isolated in facilities.”

She said it can also “stimulate life review. A patient will reminisce about pets they’ve owned while petting a dog. She added that pets can reduce agitation a patient is experiencing.

Marshall, Sam’s owner, had to apply to be a volunteer at AccentCare in order for Sam to participate in the program. She had to complete a background check, a driving record check, a drug test and obtain two references.

Sam, 7, is a rescue from Tennessee, Marshall said. Marshall’s father adopted him, and she and her husband became his owner while her father became ill. She said Sam has good manners and “loves anybody.” Sam completed the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen training program and Marshall started looking into therapy dog work. He has visited libraries, where kids read to dogs to become more confident reading out loud.

Sam has visited Favero three times at her assisted living facility. Marshall said that when the dog visits, she “definitely seems happier.” She asks Alexa to video call her grandkids and great-grandkids so she can show them Sam.

Lynn Favero, Favero’s daughter, said her mother, 86, had a stroke about 10 months ago and has paralysis on one side, so she is in a wheelchair. Otherwise, her health is relatively good, she said.

Lynn Favero, who works as a technology consultant and lives in Livonia, said her mother loves animals and misses her cat, which Lynn now takes care of. She found out that Sam likes peanut butter treats, so she told her daughter to buy some for him. She gives Sam the treats when he visits.

“He just really brightens up her day,” Lynn Favero said.

Sam the therapy dog ‘brightens’ hospice patient’s day in Northville (