Buddy is Stepping Stone Hospice’s new ‘best friend’

The lengths to which Stepping Stone Hospice staff will go to care for their patients and their patients’ families, was once again demonstrated when a therapy dog was brought in to assist with counselling a young girl who was facing the death of her father.

Buddy, a 7-year-old golden retriever and registered therapy dog, arrived at the In-Patient Unit in New Market Park on Saturday, 4 March, with his ‘dad’, Joe Adlem, who is a specialized counsellor with MediCare24. Joe and Buddy work side by side on a daily basis to help bring comfort to people (children especially) who’ve experienced trauma.

“Buddy was just the catalyst this young girl needed,” explains Stepping Stone psycho-social counsellor, Ruby Evrard, who contacted Joe and asked him to bring Buddy to the Hospice’s In-Patient Unit. “I met Joe several years ago through CANSA and then again more recently with the Alberton SAPS Trauma Unit. I believed that this approach with Buddy would work. It’s understandably difficult for children to open up about what they’re feeling when they are about to lose a parent. It’s an emotional and confusing time for them. Buddy’s presence allowed this youngster to feel free to let go. Many tears were shed with Buddy by her side for comfort. There was no need for words.”

Joe believes that therapy dogs have such a big impact on people because a dog is able to express unconditional love. “Just to touch and cuddle a dog has a soothing and grounding effect,” says Joe, adding that, “a dog is the one companion that gives you permission to express your vulnerability without judgment; there’s only love.”

Buddy came into Joe’s life after Joe saw what these dogs could do when he worked as a volunteer in Haiti after the earthquake there in 2010. Not only is Buddy a registered therapy dog, he is also trained in search and rescue, he can sniff out narcotics, he can handle being at sea or high up in a chopper… he can even abseil.

Ruby says she’ll definitely invite Buddy and Joe back to Stepping Stone to help bring comfort to patients and families who are open to it. “I feel even the staff could benefit from him being around,” says Ruby, judging from the cuddles he got from everyone in the unit.

“This was our first visit to Stepping Stone Hospice and it certainly won’t be our last,” says Joe. “It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place.”