It’s 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. A very dedicated volunteer reports for duty at the Rebecca Fortney Inpatient Care Center. She comes prepared for an 11-hour shift with her lunch and uniform vest. Oh, and her leash.
Her name is Gem and she is a trained service dog. She will be “in residence” at the inpatient care center from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. two or three days a week to visit and support hospice patients and their families.
Gem’s path to becoming our resident comfort dog began in June 2015 when her owner, Terry Battaglia, decided to volunteer for Hospice of the Chesapeake. “When we visited patients she was extremely well-behaved and happy to meet others,” she said.
We jumped at the offer when she recently proposed having Gem visit with patients at the Rebecca Fortney Inpatient Care Center while Battaglia was at work. Team members pitch in to tend to Gem’s needs, though she is pretty self-sufficient and unafraid to roam about the patient suites and hallways on her own. She gets regular walks and treats from Cindy Ernest, the center’s culinarian.
The 10-year-old Border Collie and flat coat Retriever mix is an ideal visitor – she has no agenda and offers only unconditional companionship. Healthcare experts say that hospice patients are noticeably more active and responsive during and after pet therapy visits. “Dogs are social creatures that respond to us quite sensitively, and they seem to respond to our emotions,” psychologist Debbie Custance told National Geographic News in December 2012. In the article, “The Healing Power of Dogs,” she talks of a study she led at the University of London to see whether dogs demonstrated empathy. She asked volunteers to either pretend to cry, or just “hum in a weird way.” Nearly all of the dogs came over to nuzzle or lick the crying person while they paid little attention when people were merely humming.
Social worker Kristen Machanska has sensed this empathy from Gem. “She is such a gentle soul that quietly wanders the center, bringing a calming presence to patients, families and staff,” she said. “I’m amazed at her keen sense while wandering in and out of patients’ rooms, sensing to go exactly where she is wanted and needed. She is truly adored and a ‘gem’ to the team at large.”
Enjoy these articles about Gem and her human, Terry:
Service dog provides comfort, support for hospice patients.
Terry Battaglia And Gem Lend A Compassionate Paw To Those In Need.