At Assured Hospice, we believe in providing our patients with every comfort during their final journey. There are so many ways peace and comfort can be found, and animal therapy, or Animal Assisted Activities, more commonly known as Pet Therapy, is one of the many comfort therapies that soothes in ways medication cannot. Assured Hospice’s volunteers, Dave and Molly provide emotional support, comfort and laughter to our patients and their entire family. It is Assured Hospice’s honor to provide our patients with such extraordinary experiences through this unique therapy service.
Dave Christofferson has been a volunteer with Assured Hospice for several years since moving to the Olympic Peninsula in 2011. Dave enjoys outdoors such as fishing, digging for clams, and archery. He is retired now but worked for over 43 years in the paper mills as a millwright. Originally from Newport, Dave and Kathleen, his wife of 34 years, have enjoyed Molly, a Golden Retriever, as a joyful addition to their family.
Molly is a six-year-old full blooded Golden Retriever. Dave fell in love with Golden Retrievers, and Molly is his third Golden. “Molly has an infinity for greeting people,” Dave says, and he quickly recognized her ability to put people at ease. When his own father was living in a skilled nursing facility, Dave and Molly would go and visit him. There were times when Dave’s father was sleeping, so he would take Molly around the nursing facility to visit other residents. Dave and Molly particularly enjoy the one-on-one. “Molly just shined in visiting with all the people in the nursing home,” Dave says.
The administrator at Avamere encouraged Dave to have Molly become “official” and enroll in a certified therapy dog program, which tests for 13 different skills. Dave promptly enrolled himself and Molly into Therapy Dogs International (TDI) for their certification course. TDI tests dogs for the ability to avoid being tempted to take food from people, which can be difficult for a Golden. Molly, however, had no difficulties! Other skills tested included the ability to remain seated, to not be distracted from by loud noises/children playing, or have an accident. Again, Molly had no difficulty-passing with flying colors! “Molly is a natural, she required very little training.” Dave says, “I don’t need to take much credit at all.” “Molly will start talking and gnawing on my feet if it’s been a few days since going out.” Molly even has her own identification tags for each of the locations she visits: Olympic Medical Center and Assured Hospice, to name a few.
Dave feels Molly has a special attraction for patients who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “Molly makes such a difference with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease, especially those patients who are unable to communicate,” Dave says. “It just brings people to life to interact with Molly.” Research has shown that when patients have a therapy animal with them, the patient has more interaction with and reaction to their surroundings. For a patient with Alzheimer’s, a dog is highly recognizable, and the patient can easily recognize and interact with the animal. Molly provides that bridge between the present and past.
One special memory for Dave happened when he and Molly were working with a hospice patient and visiting her in her home. Normally, therapy pets are not allowed on a patient’s bed, however, this was a special occasion and the patient wanted the dog near her as she was bed-bound. “From that day forward, there was an incredible bond between Molly” and this patient. Molly would just lay with the patient for an hour or more, allowing the patient to just “be” with her. The family was appreciative and remains in contact with Dave and Molly today. “Animals are unconditional, they love for who we are,” Dave says. Because of that, people have an infinity for animals - dogs in particular. Animals understand us and can instantly read us without judgment.”
There are times when things are difficult. For example, when we lose a patient - especially someone Molly and Dave have worked with for some time. “I feel bad, Dave states, “but most patients we work with are older and have lived a full life, so the benefits of our volunteer experience outweigh the negatives, if any.” Time spent as a volunteer is a beautiful treasure to return to those who have honored us with allowing us to be present during their final journey.
Dave says the best part of his volunteering experience is the feeling of making a difference in people’s lives. “It just makes me feel so good when we make a big difference in our patient’s quality of life,” he says. “Some react more than others, but those ho experience a big difference makes me feel warm inside. It’s not a job, it’s what I enjoy doing. It makes me feel good about myself to be able to give something back. It’s a positive all the way around because I love it, Molly loves it and the patients feel good when we visit.”
Written in collaboration with Dave and Molly by:
Patient Care Representative
Assured Hospice of Clallam and Jefferson Counties