Stevie the Lab Offers End-of-Life Pacifica House Patients Solace, Comfort and Joy
Carlsbad CA— In a quintessential San Diego story of kindness, caring and compassion, Carlsbad-based Hospice of the North Coast (HNC) teamed with Solana Beach-based Tender Loving Canines (TLC) to obtain Stevie, a sweet black Labrador. Stevie was trained as a service dog by two inmates in the Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope (POOCH) program at Donovan State Correctional Facility in south San Diego County. Beginning in the Spring of 2017, Stevie has been helping end-of-life patients who receive symptom management care at HNC’s Pacifica House find solace, comfort and joy.
Not yet three years old, sweet Stevie has already become a loving symbol of transformation, confirms her handler and guardian, Danielle Nowicki, Pacifica House Volunteer Coordinator. They have been certified by Assistance Dogs International as a facility dog team; the first at a hospice residence in San Diego County. The association is a result of a serendipitous conversation between HNC Executive Director Sharon Lutz and TLC Executive Director Victoria Cavaliere.
Nowicki reports, “I attended Stevie’s May 2017 graduation ceremony after her successful nine-month in-prison training program. The two male inmates who worked with Stevie cried as they spoke of their deep connection to her, saying she had brought hope, healing and love back into their lives. Stevie now lives with my husband and me in Oceanside. She has already made our lives more full and fun; I love our evening walks through the neighborhood. Stevie comes to work with me daily to enhance our patients’ quality of life. She turns Pacifica House into a genuine home for terminally ill people and their families at a stressful time; she’s there when people need her most.”
Nowicki says that in addition to her learned skills, Stevie seems to have an innate sense of what people want from her, and she is happy to oblige. “She is a highly intuitive dog. When we spend time with family members in the Pacifica living room, people frequently are locked in their own prisons of grief and trauma. Stevie’s comforting presence can break people out of their grief for a precious few minutes just by sitting quietly at their feet and establishing a connection. Petting Stevie can work wonders for friends and family, and for the terminally ill patients themselves.”
Stevie has been trained to place her chin on a patient as a form of bonding and gentle acupressure. For those who are weary of the clinical setting in which they have been immersed over the final months and weeks and days of their lives, especially for animal lovers who are deeply missing their own beloved companions at home, it’s an added touch of life that makes people light up.
Before he passed away, Pacifica House resident Greg Force established a warm bond with Stevie. Nowicki recalls, “Greg confided that interacting with Stevie was the best part of his stay with us. Being able to make someone’s final days on Earth more happy and joyful cannot be put into words.”
If Stevie, who has received a spiritual blessing from HNC Care Advocate Cristina Montanez, could speak, she might say, “I believe that I was created to serve in this manner. I am blessed to help.”
Nonprofit Hospice of the North Coast was established in 1980 to fill the need for comprehensive, compassionate hospice care in North County San Diego. Since its inception, it has grown in services that include global partner Nkhoma Palliative Care in Malawi, a resale store in Encinitas, Pathways Palliative Care, Hope Bereavement Center and Pacifica House, the only in-patient acute symptom management facility in North County. For more information, visit www.hospicenorthcoast.org