Baxter’s Death Brings Attention to Therapy Dogs

Have you heard about dogs who provide comfort to patients in a hospice or hospital? Baxter, a dog who joined a hospice program with his owners about four years ago, died this past week. His death brings attention to how dogs can provide comfort to those who are engaged with the transition from life to death.

The story begins when Baxter’s owners decided to volunteer at the local hospice. They brought Baxter along for the orientation, and that’s when the owners learned about dog training and certification through Therapy Dogs International. Baxter was game, and – according to his owners –  it was as though Baxter made the decision on his own to pass the training and certification at TDI well before he attended the course.

Therapy dogs offer unconditional love, non-judgment and accepting attention to humans. Dogs with a special talent for entertaining, comforting, or teaching show affinity for therapy work. In general, a therapy dog needs to be even-tempered and good natured, friendly and curious, well socialized and able to work with a variety of people. But there are two sides to this story.

The ideal therapy dog handler is a warm, caring, responsible person who is disability-aware and enjoys social interaction. If you are a friendly, giving person who loves your dog and would like to share him, as well as your time and talents, with others, therapy dog work may be for you. There are significant benefits to joining an existing, organized, recognized therapy dog organization. A quick search of the Internet may help you locate one in your area.

Unfortunately, Baxter was a geriatric dog, or an ‘elder’ when he became certified. Therefore, he had only four years to provide comfort to many patients, young and old at the San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine and Palomar Pomerado Hospital in San Diego, California, before he died. But, his lessons live on to help educate people who own and love their dogs…he provides inspiration to those who might wonder if their pets are appropriate helpers for those who need their comfort.

If you are interested in becoming involved with Therapy Dogs International, visit their Web site to learn more about their processes. TDI was founded in 1976 in new Jersey and it is a non-profit organization. If you do not own a dog, perhaps you can donate to their cause if their mission moves you to do so.

You also can visit Baxter’s Web site or his blog to learn more about this special dog. Baxter lived to be nineteen years and six months old, and he provided a much-needed and welcome comfort to many people in his old age and an inspiration to anyone to help others who need comfort.

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