Transforming her retirement into a mission filled with love and wagging tails, Leslie has been a dedicated pet therapy volunteer at HopeWest since 2016. Together with her beloved dogs—Arnold, Luna, and Toby—Leslie has gifted more than 1100 hours of pet therapy to our community, visiting patients in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, private homes, hospitals, and even providing a comforting presence to HopeWest team members.

After witnessing the compassionate care her father received through hospice, Leslie had a desire to give back, making the most of her newfound time with her dogs in a meaningful way. What started as a personal tribute to her father’s memory has grown into more than 800 patient visits filled with healing and comfort. On average, that’s about 115 visits every year, nearly 2 to 3 each week, in addition to the necessary training required for each canine companion.

Initially, Leslie was unsure if she and her dogs were making any real impact until she received an urgent call from an assisted living facility she frequently visited. The staff there informed her that a patient was nearing the end and might not survive the night. They asked if Leslie could come for one last visit to possibly comfort her.

Leslie and her dog Luna rushed to the facility. Upon arrival, they found the patient non-responsive and seemingly unaware of their presence. Leslie talked gently to the patient, with Luna quietly by her side. After about 15 minutes, feeling that their presence was unnoticed, Leslie whispered to Luna that they’d better go. Just as they were turning to leave, the patient reached out her hand and gently placed it on Luna’s head, then down her arm. Using the last of her energy, the patient showed that she was aware and grateful for their visit. This moment was eye opening for Leslie, highlighting the silent yet powerful communication her dogs could facilitate.

Since that evening, Leslie’s confidence has grown, knowing that each visit with her dogs brings joy and a much-needed sense of normalcy to those who can no longer have pets. Leslie understands that these moments of petting a dog or receiving a nuzzle can significantly lighten the heavy load of loneliness.

Training each dog for this specialized work required patience and persistence. All three of Leslie’s dogs were rescued, each needing specific preparation to ensure they were up for the task. Arnold, Luna, and Toby each passed rigorous behavior, obedience, and temperament tests, traveling multiple times to Montrose, CO for assessments.

Leslie’s story and the connections her dogs have made are a testament to the impact of pet therapy in hospice care. Her journey continues to inspire a new generation of volunteers, spreading a legacy of compassion and comfort across the HopeWest community.

Interested in volunteering at HopeWest?