Hospice welcomes volunteers of all shapes, sizes and hairdos

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whats blonde and brown and furry all over? Why, its Dexter, the two-year-old Hospice volunteer for Hospice of the Carolina Foothills.

This certified Hospice volunteer can be found Sunday afternoons reclining under the desk in the atrium of the Carolina Foothills Hospice House in Landrum. He snoozes quietly unless visitors pull open the glass entrance doors. Then he peeks out from under the desk, tail wagging rhythmically.

His welcome is subtle here, his companion Maureen Smith explains, not at all like the way he welcomes guests at home, where his greeting disorder is on full display.

In addition to being a Hospice volunteer, Dexter is also a certified guide dog, a graduate of Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida. He is a highly trained working dog, skilled at alerting his companion to obstacles like curbs, stairs and low-hanging branches.

My vision is impaired from a serious car accident many years ago, Maureen explains. Though her sight is still good enough to drive in the daytime, she made the decision, like many guide dog owners, to acquire her dog before her vision deteriorated further.

Because she feels so blessed to have Dexter in her life, Maureen says she enjoys sharing him with residents and visitors at the Hospice House, who can use a light-hearted distraction.

Normally, when he is wearing his working harness with the Please Do Not Pet Me sign, I do enforce it, she says. Its a safety issue; if he got used to socializing, he could pull me into the street to greet someone.

Its a different story at the Hospice House. I think it would be cruel to have people, especially children, look into those eyes and then be told that they cannot pet him. And it would be cruel to Dexter too, she adds. So she takes his work gear off of him when he is at the Hospice House, where he is simply a dog.

We had lunch with one patient, who was otherwise unable to form words clearly. He and Dexter stared at each other through the entire meal, until the patient motioned for him to come to his side. Soft, he said clearly with tears in his eyes, after petting Dexters ears. Now who do you think gets more out of Dexter coming to Hospice House the residents or us? Maureen asks, smiling.

She tells the story of another resident who asked to have Dexter brought to her bedside. Though obviously near exhaustion, the woman summoned the energy to pet Dexter for such a long time that Maureen sat down in a nearby chair.&bsp; Dont sit, the resident advised. I just wanted to pet your beautiful dog.

I thanked her for her honesty, and was very touched when the woman replied that honesty was one of the few gifts she had left to give. Its amazing how dogs can slice right through the baloney and get to the heart of things, Maureen says. I think they bring out our honesty.

Dexter lives to serve, she explains, watching him perk up when a food cart passes by in the atrium. In fact, if he had opposable thumbs, Im sure hed love to deliver those food trays.

You dont have to have four legs and a fur coat to volunteer for Hospice of the Carolina Foothills. We welcome volunteers of all shapes, sizes and hairdos, says volunteer coordinator Tracey Brannon.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for one of the many Hospice services, you can contact the volunteer department at 864-457-9125, 828-894-7000 or tbrannon@hocf.org.