by Amber McKenzie

Normie, a three-year-old English cream golden retriever therapy dog whose job is to provide comfort and companionship to children and adults in therapeutic settings and hospice care is part of Hospice of North Idaho’s Pet Pals DeLong Companion Animal Program. The program was established in memory of local veterinarian and animal lover, Dr. David DeLong, who passed away in 2008. “The mission of the Pet Pals program is to connect hospice clients with certified therapy pets to bring comfort, companionship and emotional solace,” says Denna Grangaard, director of communication at Hospice of North Idaho.

Normie began training to be a therapy dog when he was just a year old. “His greatest strength is immediately knowing what people need from him,” says Katie Wilson, a clinical therapist and Normie’s handler. “He’s just a big, goofy dog that kids and adults absolutely love to be around.”

Normie and Wilson currently volunteer weekly with Glenn Erickson, a nursing home resident who is in hospice care, and due to his illness, is non-communicative. “When I walk in with Normie, Glenn’s eyes light up,” says Wilson. “Rather than talk and visit, he enjoys having Normie close so he can pet him.” And Erickson isn’t the only one who benefits from Normie’s visits. “Oftentimes, word gets out in the nursing home that Normie is visiting, and the other residents will file out of their rooms to see him,” says Wilson. “Many residents that normally don’t talk will reminisce about their own pets from the past and ask lots of questions about Normie. It’s so fun to watch.”

In addition to working with older adults in hospice care, Normie also supports kids every summer at the Hospice Camp for Grieving Children. “Normie provides unconditional love and comfort for the kids when they first arrive, and is a great icebreaker for camp counselors,” Wilson explains. “I believe that the best therapists aren’t always people. Normie is non-judgmental and loves everyone, and is very receptive to hugs and even kisses from kids who aren’t necessarily ready to talk to someone yet.”

When not providing comfort care, Normie is Wilson’s family pet. “He enjoys jogging, hiking and romping with other dogs at the dog park,” Wilson says with a smile. “And he really enjoys meal time!”

Hospice of North Idaho is located at 9493 N. Government Way, in Hayden For more information about the Pet Pals DeLong Animal Companion program, call 208-772-7994, HospiceOfNorthIdaho.org.