Two volunteers and their dogs share the experiences and lessons gleaned from their befriending journey.
Can anyone, animals included, volunteer?
The answer is a resounding barking yes, with Ruby group: a volunteer group of 20 humans and 10 furry friends who go around Dover Park Hospice and other elderly homes and hospices to bring cheer to the elderly clients there regularly.
Meet volunteers with the Ruby group – teammate Lilin, volunteer leader Bernard and their furry friends, Bailey and Mercy.
Bailey’s superpower: Makes friends easily with humans by disarming and licking them furiously.
Mercy’s superpower: She can relax with you and easily gets used to strangers, which makes her the perfect therapy dog.
The power of touch – it is a powerful love language.
Befriending isn’t always a smooth journey. Lilin, once met an elderly resident who didn’t want to talk but he warmed up as soon as he starting stroking Bailey and eventually opened up to Lilin that it was his first week at the hospice without any familiar faces.
Stories like this are common. Animals have a way of breaking down the barriers that come with meeting someone for the first time and residents at the hospice tend to open up much faster in the company of animals. Animals are also great conversation starters and ice breakers. Bernard has befriended many seniors solely because of their common love for dogs.
Befriending and volunteering is a two-way street; both the volunteer and senior thrives on it. Lilin shared with us that befriending has taught her about life and helped her see things in a new perspective especially in relation to the brevity of life and the importance of relationships. “It has made me more appreciative of relationships. During volunteering you make friends (with the seniors at Dover Park Hospice), then in one to two months, you don’t see them anymore”.
From the point of view of the befriended, Lilin was reminded of her own grandmother who has Alzhemer’s. “Befriending helps my grandmother… When new people talk to her, it stimulates her memories and keeps her mentally active”.
Many elderly folks are lonely and just want companionship or a listening ear. Some less obvious things to take note of as a volunteer is non-verbal communication like keeping a straight face, focusing on them instead of crafting your reply, be patient with them even if they are repeating themselves, and not judging what they have to say.
With these in mind, you too can take your dog for an outing to Dover Park Hospice and make a few older friends.
Special thanks to our volunteer photographer, @elevated_reform, who shot the beautiful photos in this story!