As a woman walked through the dog shelter, she noticed the little black puppy in the back of one of the pens shivering with fright. Without ...

Fur Instead of Wings

little Black Labrador

As a woman walked through the dog shelter, she noticed the little black puppy in the back of one of the pens shivering with fright. Without hesitation she told the manager, “I’ll take him.” The woman said that for some reason the little guy reminded her of a TV show she loved as a child. The show was about a private detective, Boston Blackie, who proclaimed himself as “a friend to those who have no friend.” The woman, herself alone, said she immediately knew as soon as she saw the little Black Labrador that the puppy would be her friend. The little puppy, which she named “Jeeves”, did live up to her expectations as each gave the other companionship.

Regretfully, the one thing Jeeves couldn’t do was protect his owner from was disease. It wasn’t long before the woman became ill. She succumbed to her illness within a year and died. Because the woman was alone with no family or friends, Jeeves was returned to the dog shelter, the same one where his life began. As luck would have it, the same shelter employee still worked there.

Soon after, someone came to the shelter looking for a pup. She was single with only a sister living in the area. Even though she came into the shelter wanting a puppy, when she saw Jeeves sitting in the back of the pen looking so sad, that was it. The manager told her of the young Lab’s previous owner dying and how he reminded that person of the TV show. She was a calm and pragmatic woman, saying, “Well, I guess this time I’ll be the ‘friend to the one who has no friend.’ ”

In no time, the two bonded. The woman, “Anne”, led a busy life and would sometimes come home late but Jeeves was always there. He listened attentively to her whether she had a rough day or was happy following a good day. But ominous clouds began to gather a few years after she brought Jeeves home. Anne began to notice that she would tire easily. Other symptoms developed. Even though she was very successful and someone who fought and overcame many problems, this problem wouldn’t surrender.

By now, the two had become inseparable with Jeeves offering comfort as best he could while her illness progressed. Over time, it came to the point where she faced an unpleasant decision. And that was to accept a bleak future of living in a facility and fighting an incurable disease or remaining at home and make the call to hospice. For her, it was a relatively easy decision to make the call because the thought of giving up Jeeves was out of the question. That decision allowed her to be cared for at home with her beloved Black Lab always at her side.

This event was brought to my attention while I was sitting in on one of our Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) meetings. During this weekly meeting, our staff meets to review each person on our hospice. Occasionally, a staff member brings up a situation that needs to be discussed.

Before bringing up Anne’s plight at the meeting, her nurse and social worker had discussed several options concerning Jeeves’ future. Having learned of his life story from the woman’s sister, our nurse understood how important Jeeves was to Anne and conversely, how important Anne was to Jeeves. But Anne could no longer live at her home.

After a lively discussion in the IDT meeting, it was decided Jeeves would continue to live with Anne for as long as possible, whether in the Pickering House (Our inpatient facility) somewhere else. However, that afternoon it appeared her. Creator was calling her home; Her last days would be spent at the Pickering House. Her nurse made arrangements to allow Jeeves to ride along in the ambulance with his best friend as she was brought to the Pickering House. Everyone at our facility hoped to meet Jeeves when he arrived.

Once in her room and settled in bed, Jeeves sat up at Anne’s bedside and nudged his head under her hand. She painfully lifted her hand so he could push his head under it. He sat next to the bed with Anne’s hand on his head as she slept. Making her first check on the two, the Pickering House nurse saw Jeeves still sitting next to the bed with his head under Anne’s hand. She knew this arrangement wasn’t going to work for very long.

In hospice, many of the problems faced do not deal with a disease or its symptoms. The problems deal with life and life’s problems. Most of the problems seem to be ones not found in medical books.

In short order, our staff came up with the idea to use what is called a bariatrics bed. It is a bed used primarily for larger patients. Being a wider than normal bed, it would allow room for Jeeves to lie next to Anne without causing discomfort.

Soon, the woman was placed in the new bariatrics bed and Jeeves, with no encouragement needed, jumped on the bed and placed his head on her abdomen. She cried for joy when her companion snuggled next to her. She slowly lifted her hand and placed it on Jeeves head. What a relief! And for a long time neither changed position, except when Jeeves needed to go outside for a few minutes.

Within a few days, comforted by Jeeves’ around-the-clock presence, the woman peacefully left this world. Jeeves, however, wouldn’t leave her side. After waiting until the funeral director arrived and with a reverence only few would understand, her nurse tenderly lifted the woman’s hand off Jeeves allowing the body to be removed. From the time the funeral director entered the room until the woman’s body was removed, there were no words spoken and not a dry eye in the room.

When I talk to someone who has experienced hospice, what they remember primarily is how we met their emotional and spiritual needs. Rarely is the terminal condition ever mentioned. Every hospice staff member is immersed in giving care when there is no cure available. They are always thinking of the best way to offer comfort in a manner that benefits the person on hospice. Most importantly, it is based on what the ill person wants, not necessarily according to what protocol is supposed to be followed in a certain situation.

Early on in our comforting Anne, she told her social worker how our staff’s attention given to Jeeves gave her peace of mind. The social worker assured her no matter the outcome we would somehow care for her beloved Black Labrador. And that we did. After her passing, our Medical Director brought Jeeves home with him to live on his rural property and run free with his other dogs.

This chain of events wasn’t necessarily unusual in the hospice setting. Our care includes everyone affected by the illness, even if that “everyone” has four legs. In this case, it was a Black Labrador named Jeeves. During his life, he demonstrated his gift by entering the lives and filling the emptiness of two people.

Angels aren’t always in Heaven; they do their work on Earth. Some, as we learned from Jeeves, chose fur instead of wings.

Author Rick Schneider