My border collie Izzy is a hospice dog. He comforts the dying.

Pets and people.
Sept. 23 2008 10:57 AM

Hospice Dog

My border collie Izzy comforts the dying.

(Continued from Page 3)

Carol introduced us loudly and slowly. "This is Izzy," she said. "And Jon. They've come to see you. Izzy is just like Flash. You remember Flash, Mama, don't you?"

Jamie stared at the ceiling and began mumbling. I came to the foot of the bed, looked at Izzy, and gestured to the foot of the bed; he hopped up. "Stay," I whispered, and he sat stock-still.


Jamie seemed unaware of his presence. I waited. Carol was quiet, too. Keith, watching from the doorway, might have been nervous about what would happen with Washington County Hospice's first canine volunteer.

Izzy seemed a bit uncertain, not sure what was happening, looking first at me, then at Jamie. He'd never been in the company before of someone so debilitated, so close to the end; clearly, it was strange to him. Was it smart, I found myself wondering, to bring along this dog, who'd spent most of the first four years of his life alone outdoors? But he looked all right, his ears and tail up, no signs of stress or anxiety. In fact, he seemed to be studying the room, looking carefully at me, at Jamie and Carol, seeking cues.

He cocked his head at me. "It's OK, Iz," I said. "Say hello."

He seemed to get it then, some invisible trigger or instinct kicking in. I hovered nearby, ready to move in quickly if there was trouble. This was a dying woman who didn't want to be touched. Would she be frightened or perhaps frighten Izzy? How would he respond to a situation he'd never been in, couldn't really be trained in advance to handle?

He lay down and very slowly began inching up the side of the bed. He didn't step on Jamie, or even graze her frail body, just crept slowly alongside her. When he got close to her hand, he burrowed his head beneath it and lay still.

Jamie stopped muttering. Her face looked alarmed at first; then she broke into a slight smile. She didn't look at Izzy, but moved her hand slightly, feeling his forehead and his ears.

"Oh," she said. "Oh." And then, smiling, "Oh, how pretty ... pretty."

"This is the first time she's said real words in weeks," Carol whispered, astonished.

Izzy kept quite still as Jamie stroked him and talked in disjointed sentences, still smiling. After a while, she drifted off. A few minutes later, her hand still resting on Izzy's head, she awakened and stared at the ceiling, and smiled again. She seemed calmer than when we'd come in.

After 15 minutes, without instruction, Izzy extricated himself and skipped down from the bed, circling around to Carol, offering her a friendly paw. She kneeled on the floor, weeping, and held Izzy for a long moment. Then our visit was over, the hospice canine volunteer program launched.

"I can't explain how much this means," Carol told me as we left. "For a minute I had my mother back."

We agreed to return the following week. Later, we learned that Jamie allowed Carol to bathe and change her without fear or resistance. Why this would be true was nothing any of us could explain, but something was different.

Outside, Keith shook my hand and leaned over to praise Izzy. "This works," he said. "This is awesome. Izzy is a natural. You aren't so bad yourself."

Jon Katz’s latest book, Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, was published by Random House last October. You can visit him at and or email him at



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.