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I Found the Best Volunteering Activity and It’s with My Dog

We’re always searching for something great. It could be that amazing restaurant, or a new pair of shoes, or on a bigger scale, landing that dream job. For me, it was finding that rewarding volunteering activity.

I’ve done a lot of volunteering. Once I joined a group of coworkers to scoop ice cream at AT&T Park in San Francisco, so that the college students who typically do the job could go to class. Another time I helped a group of community theater actors learn dance steps. I’ve been treasurer of a dog park…

painted kindness rocks…

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packed frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving…

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Made greeting cards for nursing homes, and sewed blankets for children’s hospitals.

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While all of these experiences are special, I recently found my volunteering calling.

I love spending time with my dog, Cooper, but he’s getting older, and that means our hikes, runs and games of fetch are no longer at the top of his list. He’s still an active dog (after all, he’s a border collie), but he’s not the limber shepherd he once was. I wanted to create new memories together that he’d find enjoyable. So with my quest to find a great volunteering activity underway, I decided my dog would be a part of that story.

After some searching and research, I found a hospice care organization with an interesting offering: pet therapy. Called Paw Pals, dogs and cats – with their owners in tow – visit hospice patients. Here’s how VITAS describes the program:

Hospice pet visits offer a welcome distraction from illness and help people feel a little less lonely. They leave their patients—and anyone else lucky enough to be around—smiling, more relaxed, maybe even healthier. The therapeutic use of pets has gained more attention and widespread acceptance as it continues to bring measurable benefits to all kinds of needs.

I knew this was the right choice for me. My dog brings me so much joy, couldn’t he do that for others?

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Now Cooper is excited for Friday mornings. It’s the day he – with a little help — hops into the back of my car, and rides to our Paw Pals visit. We visit an Alzheimer and Dementia facility. It’s set up like a little town, where we walk the quaint streets to the patients sitting in the common areas. One woman loves to pet Cooper’s while collar of fur. She says it’s so soft and clean. Another woman likes to see Cooper, but would rather not pet him. We just sit there making conversation while she eyes Coop. I think he brings back memories that were previously tucked in the back closet of her mind. She seems pleased by him, so we continue to stop by.

Coop and I enjoy walking the halls of the facilities. The moment we enter, we’re greeted by smiling faces. Once quiet patients will spring up and call us over or shout hello. It’s rewarding to bring joy, and I’m so glad my dog is the one to do that.

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There are many volunteering activities, but the best ones bring people (and even pets) together to create special moments. If you’re interested in volunteering with your pet, check out VITAS Paw Pals.

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