A Higher Calling


I was at a party recently, chatting with a woman who is a hospice volunteer. She was unique, in that she brings her dog with her to visit dying people. What a lovely idea, right? She said she was inspired to do it after visiting relatives in nursing homes, whose only stimulation was the television blaring in the background. She wanted to provide the tactile stimulation and evocative memories that people can experience when petting a dog.

I have a social work background, am very comfortable with the hospice clientele, and I have a dog…hmmm, maybe this was something I could consider, I thought. Is there a certification a dog has to have, another woman asked? Yes, of course we were told.

“Well my dog’s certifiably cute,” I offered. I think he would bring joy to people at the end of their lives.

The hospice volunteer went on to explain that her dog is a standard poodle who was in fact a rescue dog. She said that he seemed to have a calling for this kind of work. Once, a patient with advanced dementia who barely spoke, reached out and patted the dog and said, “I had a poodle too.”

Her dog has a calling. Huh – imagine that. I wondered if my dog has a calling.

I told my sister about it the next day.

“Great,” she said, “now you not only have to worry about your children achieving their potential, but you have to search for your dog’s calling. Sheesh.”

I thought I just had a run-of-the-mill, rear-end sniffing, self-licking, squirrel-chasing, laying-around kind of adorable dog. Maybe he’s destined for greater things. Do I get him tested to see what his skills, strength and weaknesses are? Or take him to doggy therapy to work out his neuroses and self-image so he can lead a happy, fulfilled life?

I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I think his calling may be simply to bring joy to our family. If I have the energy, maybe I’ll see if he has a knack for making other people happy. I suspect he will. As the late, great Andy Rooney said, ““The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”

We should all strive for a higher calling.

5 thoughts on “A Higher Calling

  1. Susan,

    Thank you for your post.

    Your post reminded me of one of the best mentors I had the privilege to train under. Dr. F is perhaps the kindest, most humble physician/human being, I have ever met.

    As a medical student, I remember seeing hospice patients with him. He would walk into a room and gently place his hand on the shoulder of a dying patient and softly call his/her name. He would sit at the bedside and make eye contact and smile. It was as though time stopped for a few minutes.

    He wanted his patients to feel something other than physical pain (which many patients usually felt before hospice). He reminded me that people who are dying (similar to those who are not) need to feel physical touch. When people die, we (family, friends and physicians) want to distance ourselves. We sometimes distance ourselves unknowingly, for example by standing at the foot of the bed of a dying patient, rather than sitting next to him/her. He would say that the distancing is a normal part of the grieving process, but that often those who are dying still hunger for touch. So Dr. F. would occasionally pay (out of his own pocket) for his patients to have a massage and feel a comforting touch, rather than the pricks and needles that are associated with hospital care.

    I agree with you Susan, I think that your dog would bring unimaginable happiness to people.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  2. As someone who takes care of patients with chronic incurable illnesses, I have often suggested getting a dog to help with companionship, the incentive to get out of bed in the morning, the exercise that walking a dog brings.
    My mother in law just recently moved into a Senior apartment building, and her little 15 pound dog very quickly became the “therapy dog” for the building, greeting people in the lobby and offering kisses and taking pats to help those feeling lonely.
    I brag about my dogs all the time, about how smart they are, but can anyone tell me how to get them to understand the concept of Daylight Savings? They never let us have that extra hour of sleep at the end of October.

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