by Michelle O’Dea
It has become more widely accepted that pet ownership is beneficial with well-documented research that human-animal interactions can improve one’s mood through the release of oxytocin, reduce stress that affects cortisol, and even reduce heart rate and blood pressure. In broad terms, pets just make us feel better. It should be no surprise that some pet owners want to share that feeling with others in the community.
Stuart Stofferahn is one of those people. A former military sergeant who recently achieved his doctorate degree in education, and public speaker, Stuart also volunteers. A passion for his Golden Retriever Buckley and a desire to give back to his community led Stuart to a local pet therapy and service dog organization, Domesti-PUPS. “I realized Buckley was special when he approached several children near a fence. The first time he bounded toward them with undeniable energy, and that scared them. The next time he saw them, he walked at a snail’s pace, and lied down at their feet, and of course, he got some love,” said Stofferahn. He knew then, Buckley had a gift and needed to be shared.
“The connection is an emotional investment with a full awareness that one day very soon you will have to say goodbye. With every connection Buckley and I have made, I have experienced grace, compassion, kindness and love. Sadness for sure—but that is the sacrifice I am willing to pay.”
After trying traditional pet therapy visitations in nursing homes and assisted living centers, Stuart had a need to do more, and feel more. That is how he began doing pet therapy with individuals in hospice. Sometimes hospice means days for a patient, and other times it can be a year or more. So it’s not unusual for a hospice volunteer to develop deep relationships with people. The therapy dog is often the ice breaker when the typical conversation can be awkward. However, once a dog is in the building, immediate ‘friends’ abound, and conversation flows more easily. While the team brings joy, it also means dealing with loss.
Stofferahn adds, “With over five years of hospice volunteering under my belt, I have been somewhat conditioned to immediately feel a twinge of sadness when the phone rings—with a number I don’t recognize.” Hospice calls, and other times family members call when there has been a change in their loved one’s status. “We come to provide love, caring and support for the patient, and their family,” adds Stuart. A visit can mean sitting quietly through the night just so the family knows their loved one is not alone. It might include a vibrant conversation, a few laughs or even a tear or two. “Either way, it is an honor to serve,” adds Stofferahn.
Stuart blogs and also provides presentations to groups about his experiences with hospice, sharing the celebration of life, the peace in passing, and finding the value of the time we all have left. You can find the blog on his website: www.stuartstofferahn.com.
Across the capital city, therapy dogs are also beneficial in counseling and treatment centers–such as the Angel Dog Program at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, used in occupational and speech therapy, and even classrooms. In fact, Lincoln Public School boasts over 40 therapy dogs in classrooms across the city from local and national organizations such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (https://www.therapydogs.com), Domesti-PUPS (www.domesti-pups.org), Healing Heart Therapy Dogs (located in Crete, www.healinghearttherapydogs.com), Therapy Dogs Inc. (www.tdi-dog.org), and more.
Whether the joy your dog provides is shared in the community, or at home, give your pet a special treat by visiting any of Lincoln’s restaurants with dog friendly patios such as The Parthenon (seasonal on Tuesday evenings at 5500 South 56th St.) or MoMo’s Pizzeria (all year round at 7701 Pioneers Blvd.). Even some of our local brewpups invite our canine friends to join such as 1867 Bar (101 N. 14th St.) and Tavern on the Square (816 P St.).
Dog-friendly downtown businesses are listed at downtownlincoln.org/explore/dog-friendly-downtown-business.html.
An afternoon of fun and frolic for you and your dog can be found at one of Lincoln’s dog parks. A place to let your dog run off-leash or socialize with other four-legged friends, Lincoln dog parks are found in several spots across the city. See the Outdoors story below for location information.
Visit one of Lincoln’s indoor dog play yards, or drop your dog off for doggie daycare or a hike at any of Lincoln’s boarding, veterinary, or playspaces. Then top of your pup’s pawsitively perfect day with a Puppuccino at Starbucks or a Pupcup from Dairy Queen, from any of their citywide locations. Your pup will thank you for it! Woof!