Hospice patients welcome therapy dog

Mary Lou Wurts with her therapy dog Presley.

Presley — a large, black, very calm and quiet Bouvier therapy dog — brings comfort to hospice patients when he visits them with his owner, Mary Lou Wurts.

She first met Presley when he was a puppy in a kennel and needed a lot of socializing. That was nine years ago, and the two have been together ever since.

“I didn’t want a puppy, but I just fell in love with him. He hardly barks,” Wurts said.

Despite its large size, the Bouvier des Flandres breed are calm, docile dogs with a pleasant nature — and notably easy to train.

After Wurts took Presley home from the kennel, she knew exactly what to do.

“I had a Golden Retriever (therapy dog) when I lived in Prescott, and I knew what needed to be done. I took Presley to places that allowed dogs so I could teach him how to behave,” Wurts said of her early weeks with her non-shedding, 80-pound gentle soulmate.

She moved to Quail Creek last August and usually visits five Valor Hospice patients a week. Presley’s large size makes it easy for hospice patients to reach out to touch him from their bed.

How does a hospice patient benefits from such a visit? “You have to see to believe it,” Wurts said.

Most patients welcome a visit, but not everyone. Wurts said one very ill patient declined and another said he was not an animal lover.

Jonathan Brindley, Valor HospiceCare's strategic growth and planning director, said the most important requirement for a hospice volunteer is their willingness to help.

“We truly see that throughout all of our Valor HospiceCare volunteers. Mary Lou makes it a family affair by involving Presley,” he said.

Wurts noted that a typical visit to hospice patients she sees at Silver Springs is 30 minutes or less.

One time while living in Prescott, she took Presley to see a patient at home. The woman was curled up under the covers when Wurts asked if she could visit with her therapy dog. The woman asked what kind of dog. When Wurts told her, the patient threw back the covers, her eyes opened wide and she said, “Bouvier!” She was French, and a French breed of dog to visit and pet just made her day, Wurts remembered.

Susie Mathews, volunteer coordinator with Valor HospiceCare, said Mary Lou and Presley are new to the family but they come with a lot of hospice experience.

“It’s a pleasure to have them as part of the volunteer team for our Green Valley patients. They not only bring joy to their patients but also to the staff and other residents that they visit in the Green Valley retirement communities. Just a few minutes with them brings a sense of peace and pure enjoyment,” she pointed out.

“As volunteers we can’t change the outcome at the end of someone’s life. We can, however, help them have moments of joy by making every effort to bring something as simple as a beautiful animal and his wonderful, caring owner.”

Wurts’ years and time spent with hospice patients remain engrained in her psyche. She remembers being with one man for 30 minutes just before he died. Another time she played her harp for a dying woman.

“I guess I was just born to be a caregiver,” she said.

A caregiver for her husband, she also helped an ailing sister. Now she visits to help a brother-in-law who cares for Wurts’ younger sister.

Contact Green Valley News freelance reporter Ellen Sussman at ellen2414@cox.net.

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