The Hospice Journal is one of the most important things in my life as a writer and as a human being.

I’ve been intrigued with hospice for a long time, even though I wasn’t absolutely certain what it was or how it worked. For years, I’ve done things with dogs – herding, public appearances – but I wanted to go to another level. I wanted to do something with my dogs that brought me into contact with people, and challenged me. One day I called Washington County Hospice and Palliative Care and spoke to Keith Mann, director of volunteers.

He signed me up up for a class. Most of the people I knew told me it was a bad idea. It would be too depressing, too draining. Keith asked me about myself and when I told him about Izzy, this remarkable dog who has been rescued off of a farm, he suggesting bringing him to hospice training.

It would be great to have a dog do hospice work. Keith took a chance on me, and on Izzy. It was a new idea for hospice. Therapy dogs do a lot of wonderful work in many places, but hospice presents some special challenges. There are noises, smells, medicines, equipment, and often, the people we see are not able to come to us, so we have to go to them.

Izzy went through every bit of the rigorous volunteer training with me and Keith Mann, who made this possible, has becomeĀ  valued friend to both of us. He set me and Izzy (and then, Lenore, the Love Dog, who also is now a hospice dog) on one of the great adventures of my life, into trailers, cabins in the Adirondacks, nursing homes and special care facilities. There, Izzy has developed into a skilled empath offering comfort and love to people who are often isolated, even abandoned, by a culture that does not want to deal with death.

On the edge of life, in the real of the dying, Izzy, Lenore and I have encountered more love, commitment and friendship than I have ever witnessed. Hospice work is not depressing. It is profoundly uplifting and satisfying, a challenge to me to be a better human being and remember what humanity is all about. It is also an opportunity to take my dogs out into the world and do some real good with them.

Izzy has worked to the highest levels of the glorious history of humans and dogs. He has comforted the dying, brightened their lives, supported their families and brought light to dark corners.

I am very pleased to present this page, which I hope will spread the notion of hospice, as well as the power of dogs in our lives.

I thank Keith and the staff at Washington County Hospice and Palliative Care, and the patients and families of hospice, who have so graciously and courageously allowed me and my dogs and my camera into their lives at so intimate and challenging a time. I hope these words and pictures do them justice.

A hospice social worker spoke to me once of the mistreatment of the dying, by which she meant their isolation at the end of their lives. I hope this journal will help ease that mistreatment in some small way.