Rosie the Hospice Dog Comforts Dying Patients


Story at-a-glance -

  • Rosie the yellow Lab is a full-time employee of the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson, California, and her work with patients and their families is invaluable.
  • During Rosie’s first year at the hospice, she wore a leash attached to the belt of Dr. Gary Pickell and followed him on his rounds. Once she understood her role, she struck out on her own, roaming the hallways and visiting patients and visitors to the facility.
  • Rosie’s presence is a gift to hospice patients, visitors and staff. She helps ease the strain everyone is feeling, and she provides a welcome distraction for those who need it. She also helps patients feel closer to nature in their final days.

By Dr. Becker

The 16-room Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson, California serves the needs of about 700 terminally ill patients and their families each year.

For about half the residents, the hospice will be where they live out their remaining days. Other patients are there to have their conditions stabilized so they can return home to spend their final days with family and friends. And still others stay at the facility for short periods so their caregivers can have a little break.

Nearly every day of the week, Dr. Gary Pickell does his patient rounds at the hospice along with an 8 year-old “golden Lab” named Rosie who is a full-time employee of the hospice. According to Pickell, Rosie works for food.

Rosie roams the halls of the immaculate, well-appointed facility wearing a volunteer badge swinging from her collar. Despite the profound sense of sadness that fills the air, Rosie’s presence lifts the spirits of the humans around her. And she’s able to ease the pain patients feel in ways that drugs cannot.

'She's a pet therapist.'

Here’s how Dr. Pickell describes Rosie’s “job” at the hospice house:

“She’s a pet therapist. She provides emotional support. Elderly people can be forgetful. They don’t remember me, but they’ll remember her. She’ll introduce herself and then go lie down. And while I’m doing my paperwork, she’ll go back and visit.”

Rosie was a gift from a breeder in Escalon, California. She is from a line of “downsized, calm goldens.” (I’m not sure whether Rosie is a yellow Lab or a Golden Retriever/yellow Lab cross.)

During her first year at the hospice, Rosie wore a leash attached to Dr. Pickell’s belt. During the course of that year, she developed her own awareness of what needed to be done, and has worked off leash ever since.

Rosie's Presence Is a Gift to Hospice Patients and Their Families.

Rosie’s job responsibilities include making herself available to be petted, and providing a distraction for family members visiting the hospice. Her presence offers guests and staff a bit of relief from the emotional strain. And according to Pickell, Rosie helps patients feel more in touch with nature.

One visitor, a woman whose husband is a patient, took to Rosie immediately, and vice versa. She says after her husband passes, she plans to return to the hospice to see Rosie and feed her. (For some reason, Rosie seems partial to visitors who bring her dog treats…)

Patients at the hospice who are pet owners often miss their furry companions terribly. They are especially grateful for Rosie’s company and friendship.

And who better to have at your side as you live out your final days, than man’s best friend?

Pictures of Rosie at work