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Comfort animals (and their handlers) are slow to return after COVID break

Comfort animals are often brought to schools, hospitals and hospices around Colorado and elsewhere. That had to stop during COVID.

DENVER — Before the COVID pandemic, volunteer teams of therapy animals were regularly on the register of guests at Denver Hospice’s inpatient facility in the Lowry neighborhood.

But since visitation restrictions were lifted and as the pandemic begins to wane, many of those volunteers haven’t come back.

“In general, our volunteer program took a bit of a dip during the pandemic,” said Kristen Coleman, the volunteer coordinator for Denver Hospice.

Coleman said many of the volunteers are older and may be immunocompromised, making them weary about coming back to the building with their animals. While the hospice facility has lifted restrictions on volunteer visitations, it still requires volunteers to be screened for COVID symptoms and wear a mask. All staff members of Denver Hospice and any volunteers who work there must be vaccinated.

“We’re starting to feel a bit normal again and volunteers want to give back – more than ever,” Coleman said.

Julie Schwarz has volunteered at Denver Hospice for years, most of the time with a partner: Ollie Jingles.

Ollie is an 8-year-old Brussels Griffon who is certified as a therapy dog.

“There have been times that he’s actually taken me into a room,” Schwarz said. “And one of the times the hospice patient had passed just within minutes in the bed and there was a woman sitting in the chair and he went right over to her.”

Credit: 9NEWS
Ollie is an 8-year-old Brussels Griffon who is certified as a therapy dog.

“The first time we ever volunteered there was a little girl about 8-years-old in the hall crying and her family was inside. So, we just sat on the floor and hung out with her, so she wasn’t alone.”

Schwarz said she’s noticed fewer animal teams on the volunteer sign up sheets since she began returning to the hospice.

“I know there are people who got dogs during the pandemic,” she said. “I feel like they’re missing out on the opportunity to give back.”

Denver Hospice requires volunteers bringing therapy animals to have a certification or have intent to get one. You can find out more about volunteer opportunities here.

Denver Pet Partners, a local nonprofit that certifies therapy animals, said it has seen a slump in volunteers during the pandemic, though they said they have more volunteers now. If you’re interested in using their training services you can find more information here.

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