VALPARAISO | Bill Isakson fed treats to the large dog curled up in the chair beside his bed.
"You're a good dog. Have another one," he said.
Isakson, a patient at the Arthur B. and Ethel V. Horton Hospice Center, received a visit from Kalaber, an 8-year-old Australian shepherd dog, as part of the pet therapy program.
The dog is one of several animals that have been certified to provide comfort to terminally ill patients and their families at the center, which is operated by the Visiting Nurse Association of Porter County.
"We've had dogs, cats, a bunny and even a llama," said Marylyn Johns, hospice clinical manager. "It's really wonderful to see the smiles from patients and their families."
Isakson, of Hobart, was talking with Lorraine, his wife of 61 years, when Kalaber came to visit.
The couple are dog lovers, having owned schnauzers, Lorraine said.
She stroked Kalaber as he nuzzled up against her.
"I've never felt such soft fur," she said. "This dog is beautiful."
Kalaber's owner, hospice volunteer Jim Wise, brings the dog to the center about once a week. They also visit the VNA Phoenix Center, a grief support facility for children, teens and young adults.
In addition to having the calm temperament required for a pet therapy animal, Kalaber has another quality that endears him to the people he meets, especially the children at the Phoenix Center.
The dog had one of his front legs amputated after suffering a fungal disease, but he gets around well on three legs, and that helps provide a lesson for children who are grieving, Wise said.
"The kids see that he's happy and enthusiastic and is carrying on (despite a hardship)," Wise said.
Wise said Kalaber received his animal therapy certification through the Delta Society, which trains volunteers and their pets.
"It's very rewarding," Wise said. "I think a lot of people get neglected toward the end of their life."
Nancy Weaver, hospice center volunteer coordinator, said patients are allowed to have their own pets visit their rooms as well.
Many of the patients own pets or have owned pets. One patient showed dogs for 30 years, Weaver said.
"It really brings back a happy part of their life," she said.