Pet Visit Volunteer Benji

Big, small, fluffy, snuggly – we love our pets! They are our fur babies, our friends, our family. They greet us with open paws and wagging tails and live for petting, treats and playtime. Our pets bring us happiness.

Did you know your pets can serve another important purpose providing comfort for those in the care of Suncoast Hospice and Empath Health?

We are looking for dogs, cats and other kinds of pets to be specially trained with their owners as pet visit volunteers. This is one of many palliative arts services we provide to our patients and families.

Pet visit volunteer teams make visits in patients’ homes, our three care centers or nursing or assisted living facilities throughout Pinellas County. The pets can walk in and make an instant connection and brighten days for patients. They help ease discomfort, bring joy and open a door for sharing memories of other beloved pets.

Snapshot: Our Pets and People

• We currently have 29 pet visit volunteer teams – all dogs and owners
• We previously had a variety of pets including dogs, horses, rabbits and cats
• Our largest dog was a Great Dane at 205 pounds
• Our smallest dog was a Chihuahua at 3.5 pounds
• Our longest-serving pet visit volunteer is Judy Gauron. She began volunteering with Suncoast Hospice in 1997 and in the pet visit volunteer program in 2004. A strong advocate and support, she has also mentored new volunteers.

Making a Difference

Over the years, Gauron and her precious greyhounds have visited countless patients and families in need of comfort.

“Pet visits are a powerful form of palliative care. When patients stroke Theo, they reminisce about the happy times with their pets. I feel that during our visits with patients, the difficulties of the present are forgotten. Families also are uplifted. Our conversations flow easily and we form bonds through the love for our dogs,” Gauron shared about visits with her greyhound Theo.

Another pet visit volunteer, Benji the dog, made a special impression in the lives of one family. Benji helped bring a smile to the family’s loved one who had been mostly unresponsive. They were so moved that they decided to give back by adopting their own dog and going through pet visit training in their home state.

Pet Visit Volunteer Judy Gauron and her dog Theo

Program Requirements

The process to become a pet visit volunteer includes:

• Empath Health volunteer orientation
• Empath Health patient and family support training
• Certification by an approved evaluation organization (such as Project P.U.P.)
• Proof of health screening and vaccinations

Chow, Doberman Pinscer, Rottweiler, Dalmatian, Pit Bull and other breeds known for aggressive behavior are excluded from participating.

We Need You – Sign Up Today!

To register for volunteer orientation, fill out our information request form or go to our calendar to select a registration date and fill out a form. For more information, call volunteer services at (727) 523-3440.

To learn more about our pet visit volunteer program, call Alicia Lawler at (727) 772-4390.