Program makes visiting hours at senior centers for the
Author: Patricia Villers of the New Haven Register
SHELTON -- Winston, an English Springer Spaniel, is
truly a people-loving canine. He is the kind of a dog
that lights up a room when he arrives on the scene. And
the people he meets and greets can't help but love him
So it's no surprise Winston, 12, and his owner,
Susan Hamann of Monroe, are partners in the Creature
Comforts program run by the Connecticut VNA Hospice in
Shelton. It is an affiliate of Home Healthcare and
Hospice by Masonicare.
Hamann regularly takes Winston on rounds to visit
elderly residents of United Methodist Homes' Bishop
Wicke Health Center at Wesley Village and Hewitt
Organization's Shelton Lakes and Hewitt Memorial
Hospital. All three nursing facilities are in Shelton.
The pair has been volunteering for 1 1/2 years, Hamann
said. "We usually visit for about an hour," she said
of the jaunts.
On a recent morning, Hamann and Winston were at
Bishop Wicke to say hello. They visited with 94-year-old
Lillian Carroll, who lives at the skilled nursing care
and rehabilitation facility.
Hamann chatted with Carroll as Winston just acted
himself, doing his mellow-dog routine. The visit took
place in a common room at Wicke, and on the counter
there were pastries for visitors. Winston got a whiff of
the pastry, and that's all it took. That day, Hamann
started giving Winston tiny pieces of a Danish pastry.
"He's a foodaholic," she joked. When Carroll saw the dog
devouring the tidbits, her face lit up. "You'd think he
hadn't eaten in a month," she quipped.
Hamann asked Carroll whether she had ever owned a
dog. "We always had dogs growing up," Carroll replied.
She said her father had a hound dog because he used to
hunt birds. Winston was sporting a multi-colored
bandanna, one of many he has available. Hamann said she
puts a bandanna on him when it's time to go visit
someone in a nursing facility, so that he associates
bandannas with work. Winston goes everywhere with Hamann.
"He doesn't know he's a dog," Hamann explained. She
told Carroll that when Winston gets up in the morning,
she brushes his teeth and cleans his ears. "Just like a
baby," Carroll commented as she petted Winston's head.
"I love that dog," Carroll said.
Hamann said she is sure she gains more from the
program than do the patients she and Winston visit.
"When you are taking a (training) course they tell you
that you will get so much more out of this (than the
people you visit)," Hamann said, and she has found that
to be true. "I just feel so happy about what he does,"
she said. "This breed has an innate sense of what to do.
He just knows." Hamann said if someone is lying in bed,
Winston "just jumps right up in bed and cuddles next to
them." He lets people know that he's there and it's time
for a visit. "He has made so many people's days."
Jo-Ann Niski, volunteer coordinator with Connecticut
VNA's Hospice Program in Shelton, said there are several
other animals available "waiting to be assigned.” Her
territory includes the Shelton area and the Watertown
area. A woman from Watertown, for instance, takes a
trained dog to Masonicare's Ashlar of Newtown, she said,
to visit residents. Niski said a lap cat and a miniature
horse also are trained to visit patients. "I have a
menagerie" available for visits, Niski said. Since the
miniature horse's owner works full time, the hours she
can take him places for visiting is limited.
Hamann, who is retired, said she got Winston in
August 2000 from the English Springer Spaniel Club of
Long Island Rescue program. He originally was from
Massachusetts. "He died and went to Heaven when he moved
in with me," she said. She got involved with the Hospice
volunteering when she took Winston to Grand Master's Day
in June 2005 at Masonicare's Ashlar Village in
Wallingford. There, Hamann said she was "recruited" by
Debra Richards, director of volunteer services for
Connecticut VNA. "She saw (Winston) interacting with the
crowd there," Hamann said, and recruited the two of
them. Richards said pet visits reduce stress and
anxiety, and have been proven to lower patients' blood
Pet visits "allow people an avenue for life review,"
Richards said. When a pet is brought into a facility,
patients will remember the animals they had owned in the
past. "They may say I had a dog just like that. It
brings back memories for them.” "And for (some people),
to touch a dog can have a calming effect on them."
Richards said animals "are a safe place for people to
emote." She said they may express something to a pet
that they would not say to a person. In addition to dogs
and cats, they have a guinea pig and a rabbit that are
trained to visit patients, she said.
Hamann's parents live at Ashlar Village, and when
she visits them she brings Winston along. "Everybody
there knows him, "she said. "He's my mother's
ON THE COVER: Peter Casolino/Register - Susan Hamann,
right and her dog, Winston, visit Lillian Carroll at
Bishop Wicke Health Center at Wesley Village where
Carroll lives as part of the Creature Comfort program.
Black and white photos by Peter Casolino/Register:
Susan Hamann, right, and Winston visit with Lillian Carroll