Pet therapy dogs are special. Any dog who can bring comfort and a smile to sick patients is a special dog indeed. Then there are those dogs who surpass all human expectations -- dogs who seem wiser and more compassionate than their human counterparts, dogs seemingly sent from heaven to do work no human can. This is the story of Baxter.
Baxter was a rescue dog turned hospice hero. Part Golden Retriever, part Chow-Chow, Baxter was all love. Melissa Joseph welcomed him into her home and her heart when he was about two years old and spent nearly every moment since with him at her side. It was only natural for Melissa to bring Baxter along to volunteer training when she and her husband decided to be hospice volunteers. The hospice staff and group of fellow hospice volunteers all agreed that Baxter was special and awarded him the honorary title of hospice volunteer, even presenting him with a certificate of completion of volunteer training and his own name badge.
At the urging of the hospice staff, Melissa sought out certification for Baxter to be an Animal Assisted Therapy dog. Baxter passed the rigorous testing with flying colors and at the ripe age of 12 years old, became a certified pet therapy dog. He spent the next seven years volunteering at the San Diego Hospice and the Institute for Palliative Medicine in the inpatient hospice unit and touched every life he encountered. Melissa has written a book to honor Baxter, who passed away October 16, 2009, to raise awareness of pet therapy volunteers, and to raise proceeds to benefit charity. Moments With Baxter tells 36 stories of special moments spent with Baxter - 36 patients and countless staff, family members, and loved ones touched by the special spirit of an amazing dog.
Baxter comforted children who were leaving this world all to soon and reinvigorated youth in the dying elderly. He brought comfort and joy to dying patients of all ages and eased the grief of their loved ones, if even for a moment.
As a testament to the impact he had on those he encountered, Baxter's memorial service was held at San Diego Hospice with standing room only. His obituary, the first for an animal, ran in the San Diego Tribune. A Youtube video of Baxter graced Facebook and Myspace pages around the internet and were distributed in mass emails. Baxter has an international fan club, a stuffed animal replica complete with a therapy jacket, and Moments With Baxter is a top seller. Baxter has become something of a celebrity but no one understands the depth of his spirit better than those who spent precious moments with Baxter.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa about her experience as a hospice volunteer with Baxter. Don't miss the Q&A with Melissa Joseph, author of Moments With Baxter.