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On Sunday afternoons, patients and families at the Hospice House of Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton have been introduced to a couple of new volunteers – Cheeto, a friendly orange cat, and Tagalong, an Alpine goat. Along with their human mom, Mindy Allender, a volunteer with Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton and Ohio’s Community Mercy Hospice, they have been bringing comfort and joy to the patients and families they meet.
In addition to visiting patients and families at Hospice House, Cheeto and Tagalong also make rounds at extended care facilities in Springfield and Urbana.
“Cheeto is a social cat who loves to provide comfort,” said Mindy, who lives on a seven-acre farm with her family in Urbana, Ohio. “He loves to be a part of a person’s healing journey.”
Cheeto will be 4 years old in April 2020. He is a cat who loves to be on the go. Originally a feral cat, Cheeto was given to Mindy when his mother died.
“I knew from the instant we met that I wanted Cheeto to become a therapy cat,” Mindy said. “I started by bringing him in the car with me, taking him to the pet store, bringing him along on family camping trips. My hope was that these activities would help socialize him and facilitate his transition into a therapy cat. These activities paid off, and he has become the most wonderful therapy animal and companion for my family!”
Tagalong is an 11-month-old Alpine goat. While playing inside, he wears both adult diapers and a set of bib overalls to help keep the diaper in place.
“Tagalong is very calm and affectionate,” Mindy said. “He enjoys climbing, playing with his goat sister and human sister in addition to competing with Cheeto for space in my lap!”
Cheeto bonded with Tagalong when he was being bottle fed as a kidd. “Cheeto may have been hoping for a missed drop of milk, and, thus, a lifelong bond was formed!” Mindy said. “Cheeto will follow me to the barn if I am going to visit Tagalong. They love spending time with each other and playing with me.”
At Hospice House, people react to seeing Cheeto and Tagalong in different ways. Some people tell Cheeto he is an answer to their prayers. Others tell Mindy about the pets they have had throughout their lives and pets they have at home.
“The sensation of having a cat curl up in their lap or the sound of a purr provides comfort on a level I cannot give,” said Mindy, who was first introduced to hospice care when her father was a patient at Hospice House after a brief illness. “Numerous times, Cheeto has literally been covered in the tears of the patients we visit. Cheeto not only comforts the patients, but he also spends time sharing affection with the patients’ family members.”
Many in hospice care have told Mindy that they have never seen a goat. Mindy enjoys sharing her goat with the patients and their families. “It is very sweet to me that people in their last moments have the opportunity to experience something new,” Mindy said. “Sometimes people grew up on farms, but they haven’t seen a goat in many years. That visit with Cheeto and Tagalong can be a catalyst for remembering and sharing happy memories with me and their families.”
Cheeto and Tagalong often travel together, but more often they travel individually. They will be able to travel together more often once Mindy obtains a goat cart.
Mindy, a phlebotomist who works with cancer patients, has wanted to become involved with animal-assisted therapy for as long as she can remember. Years ago, she saw a therapy dog come into the hospital where she worked. It brought back memories of being in first grade and 4-H, an organization in which kids complete hands-on projects in health, science, agriculture and civic engagement. As a child, she used to bring farm animals to schools for suburban and urban kids to interact with.
“I felt a great joy to be with the animals, but I also loved seeing the connection the animals made with the children,” Mindy said.
She thought that sharing her animals with others in a therapeutic setting would be something she would do during retirement. But the longer she worked in healthcare, the more she witnessed patients who put off their dreams without ever being able to fulfill them. She did not want to risk that, so she contacted Dogtors, a provider of animal-assisted therapy teams in the Miami Valley area. In May 2017, Cheeto was certified as a certified-therapy animal. Tagalong was certified in November 2019.
“Working with Cheeto and Tagalong continues my joy of bonding with both my animals and people, as well as bringing joy to others,” Mindy said.
She enjoys volunteering at the Hospice House. “While we volunteer at several different facilities, my heart belongs to hospice,” said Mindy, who recalled how much the art cart meant to her and her twin sister when they made craft pieces in memory of their father. “We were given so much love and support at the Hospice House during my father’s brief illness. I wanted to be able to give that same love and support to others.”