Kara and Kona are in it for the connection and to make a difference in a hospice patient’s daily life.
Volunteer Kara Monroe and her “double doodle” Kona are helping to enrich and enhance Paradigm Health hospice patient’s lives each time they make a much-treasured visit. And while Kona might be the recipient of a lot of petting and hugs, it’s really Monroe and her ability to connect and be present with patients during their visits that really makes the difference.
“Kona and I currently visit with two hospice patients, and they just light up when they see us walk into the room,” shares Monroe. “One of them is very interested in petting and talking about his love of dogs and the other—while she may pet Kona for a few moments—spends most of our visit just talking and sharing life experience stories with me. I get as much joy out of it as they do.”
Monroe had always had dogs at various times throughout her life, but it had been about 7 years since she lost her beloved golden retriever. During the pandemic she realized how much she would enjoy having another dog, giving them a good life, and adding a bit of work-life balance to her own routine. Due to some allergies went on the search for her double doodle, as she calls Kona, and the rest is history.
“I was very interested in understanding the process to become a registered pet therapy team and knew that was something I wanted Kona and I to do together,” says Monroe. “He’s been through some initial training with me and then lived with a trainer for a while. He’s fantastic with kids and almost everyone but he isn’t a fan of elevators. Ultimately, we’d like to work to assist in scent recovery, outdoor recovery and we are working on some off-of-leash work as well.”
In early 2021 Monroe lost her mother to Parkinson’s disease and had become familiar with hospice care through that end-of-life journey alongside her mother as a caregiver. This year, Monroe knew she wanted to find a way to give back, and include Kona, and began an internet search for volunteer opportunities. She quickly found Paradigm Health and its pet enrichment volunteer program and made contact.
“I reached out and Sheila, the volunteer coordinator, got right back with me,” Monroe shares. “I went through a volunteer training program and Kona’s only training beyond with his trainers was that he was well-behaved, patient and loving—he pretty much is a natural at that.”
The question Monroe most hears when she shares that she is a hospice care volunteer is: Isn’t that depressing and sad? But she says her experience has been just the opposite.
“I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of any opportunity to form and strengthen a relationship with people even if it is temporary,” says Monroe. “Those experiences are life-changing and give me the opportunity to hear and share in their life stories, learn about their families and see the world around us through their eyes and experiences.”
Monroe shares that her experience with Paradigm Health has been incredibly welcoming and when she received her new volunteer’s name badge, she realized Kona had received his own badge—paw print and all. She knows first-hand how important being able to see a beloved pet can be.
“My father had a stroke about 6 years ago and he was in the hospital and then in therapy for many weeks and days after that,” Monroe says. “One of the brightest spots in his recovery was when we were finally able to take his dog into the facility to visit him. It was a special moment. When we saw the light in his eyes, we knew he was on the way to healing.”
For some, volunteering in a hospice care environment helps individuals consider their own end-of-life journey and reflecting on how you want your own journey to look like.
“One thing I do know is that if you want to do hospice volunteer work-you should,” says Monroe. “It gives a different perspective on the end-of-life journey looking through a ‘living’ lens.”
For Monroe, adding Kona to her family was the best decision she made in 2020 and they hope to bring joy to as many folks as they can.