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Furry Hospice Lessons

image-9Consider the guinea pig…

It is by all reasoning a furry miniature football. No doubt, a rodent wingman to its cousin the dropkick dog. To the casual observer it’s an unimportant little beast.

But on a breezy summer afternoon at Central Wyoming Hospice my guinea pig perspective shifted when I did rounds with Erin Maggard and her registered hospice guinea pig named Sienna. It was the thunderdome of warmth and compassion—-a hospice learning lesson I’ll never forget.

When I arrived to Central Wyoming Hospice that day I learned what makes the guinea pig is its master. And Erin is a great hospice master. She said her guinea pig adventure started one day – quite by chance – when she decided to bring Sienna and Daphne to hospice to see her friends. The Girls, as they are known, weren’t just a hit with her friends, but with all the patients. Before Erin knew it she had taken being a hospice volunteer to a new level.

And to be sure, the Girls aren’t your typical guinea pigs. They don’t scurry or scamper. They don’t bite or burrow. In fact, they possess one of the most important traits any hospice volunteer can hope to have. They’re calm. Super dooper calm.

While doing rounds, Erin explained every guinea pig isn’t made out for hospice. “To become a registered therapy guinea pig,” she said, “takes oodles of hard work.” I learned it involved a battery of tests, swabs, physicals, and evaluations for both master and pig to be certified for bedside action.

It was a good day to be a hospice volunteer. We went from room to room and each interaction was the same. Erin entered holding Sienna, her beady black eyes of love peering out from Erin’s hands. “Oh, who is that?” Each patient asked.

Some patients wanted to hold her and some simply wanted to talk about her. In the end, each patient smiled like they had found a new friend.

Holy guinea, I thought, watching this unfold. Sienna creates more joy in three seconds than the rest of us do in thirty minutes. It was a remarkable sight. Smiles, laughter and conversation filled the hospice wing. It was indeed a good day to be a hospice volunteer.

Looking back, my time with Erin and the Girls taught me several lessons and confirmed something all hospice volunteers should know.

First, I learned in hospice guinea pigs aren’t animals. They’re people. Patients want to know how they’ve been, when they’re coming back, and, more or less, their entire life story. Guinea pigs create incredible conversation.

Second, I learned guinea pigs make great hospice volunteers. They are not just furry footballs or the brunt of rodent jokes. When was the last time you held a warm, furry bundle of joy? Guinea pigs are hard to resist in hospice for all the right reasons. They create comfort and security for those when they need it the most.

And lastly, the event confirmed to me consistency is key. If the Girls miss a scheduled day patients wonder where they are and when they’re coming back. It’s the same for all hospice volunteers. It’s best to set a schedule and keep it. We hospice volunteers must march to the beat of continuity.

I am happy to report my day with Erin and Sienna was a profound success. Everyone at hospice was moved to a new level of joy, appreciation and compassion that day. And that’s what being a great hospice volunteer is all about. Whether you’re a man, woman or beast.


A special thank you to Susie McMurry, Brenda Evans, Marilyn Connor, Erin Maggard, Sienna and all of the staff at Wyoming Central Hospice. It’s been a joy and honor volunteering at Central Wyoming Hospice.

Posted 6/12/12

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