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MUNSTER — Three furry volunteers at Hospice of the Calumet Area are providing comfort and companionship to the gravely ill and their loved ones in Northwest Indiana.

The three certified therapy dogs volunteering with Hospice of Calumet Area in Munster help patients as part of the nonprofit's Caring Canine program, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, according to hospice volunteer coordinator Cynthia Camp.

Camp said the animals help patients live in the moment.

“It's so nice that they don't remember their past,” Camp said. “They live in the present. And that's really what our patients need.”

Mike Buchanan, 66, and wife Becky have volunteered at Hospice of Calumet Area since 2004, but it is only in the past four years they have been joined by Maggie, a three-legged Lhasa Apso and Havanese mixed-breed they rescued from a shelter.

The two other comfort dogs at Hospice of the Calumet Area are Zach, a 10-year-old golden retriever, and Jacques, a French poodle.

Buchanan said he decided to volunteer after his mother was provided end-of-life services by the organization.

He said he adopted Maggie from the Humane Society in 2013. The dog was raised on a puppy mill and lost its leg in an accident.

Maggie is a certified therapy dog through the American Kennel Club's Good Canine Citizen program. Camp said all comfort animals are required to be certified, and the organization keeps up-to-date medical records for the animals.

Buchanan said Maggie is a comfort for patients, and is often invited to funerals to help mourning family members.

He told a story about one patient who said she wasn't feel well, and declined to visit with the Buchanans and Maggie. Mike said the patient relented after she was told Maggie had a new sweater to model, and the Buchanans ended up spending more than an hour visiting with the woman.

“There are people who, after she visited, were different,” Buchanan said. “She took away their aches and pains.”

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Courts and social justice reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.