I just finished reading Izzie and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me by Jon Katz, an author of novels, memoirs, and children’s books who lives on a farm in Washington County, New York. In this book, he describes how he acquired two dogs and added them to a menagerie of animals on his farm. Izzie, a border collie, was neglected, and Lenore, a Labrador, came from a breeder.
The author also provides anecdotes about other animals on the farm and talks about how they got along with Izzie and Lenore. He describes how he trained first Izzie and then Lenore for hospice work and how the dogs effected terminally ill patients’ behavior. Some suffered from dementia, but after a visit from Izzie, they became more manageable so family caregivers and nursing home staff could more easily bathe and change them and administer medications.
When Izzie was around, patients who were agitated became calm, and those who rarely spoke uttered a few words. As a result of Izzie’s visits, one patient recovered to the point where his doctors determined he no longer needed hospice care. I wonder how this man did once Izzie’s visits were discontinued.
Jon Katz also describes his bout with depression and reflects on the healing power of animals. I feel I can relate to his work with hospice patients. Although I never worked with hospice directly, I spent fifteen years as a registered music therapist in a nursing home and often encountered residents who were terminally ill. I used music for the same purposes that Jon Katz used Izzie and Lenore.
Reading this book, especially the author’s experiences with hospice patients, gave me a whole new perspective on my life as a family caregiver. I’m lucky because my husband Bill isn’t suffering from a terminal illness. He’s partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of two strokes. I must do almost everything for him, but he’s not bedridden, and I don’t have to bathe him or administer pain medication intravenously or handle oxygen tubes. I don’t have to see him in pain or discomfort or deal with agitated behavior. I hope that when the time comes, he’ll go peacefully, and I won’t be forced to endure the agony of watching him die.