WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Palm Beach County man and his four-legged best friend are helping terminally ill patients find something to smile about during tough times.
Between the calming water and soothing music, hospice staff members work hard to create a relaxing environment for patients entering the final chapter of their lives.
"I feel safe," said Jubane Vargas, a hospice patient who has cancer.
Sometimes that comfort comes from man’s best friend. Pet therapy is one of many options for patients at Trustbridge in Palm Beach County.
WPTV tagged along for a special session that Vargas had with Floyd Greco and Tia, a 6-year-old doberman.
"It relaxes me like a piano. If I feel unsafe and she sees something she’ll let me know," Vargas said.
The feeling is one that Greco knows well. He got Tia as a puppy to help him cope while his wife of 37 years was dying in the hospital.
"I fell in love with her and I knew my wife would love her. She was in the hospital at the time," Greco said.
When Greco's wife passed, Tia was still there
"She helped me tremendously, absolutely. Oh, I was mad at the world and you know, there’s a void and I'd just sit at home and didn’t know what to do. But she was there and even talking about it now it brings chills to me," Greco said.
Greco wanted to share that feeling with others going through difficult periods.
That led him to find an outlet in volunteering.
"We’re speaking to patients who know they’re on their last leg and it’s reassuring to know they’ve got a smile on their face," Greco said.
Trustbridge staff like Maura Taggart said the visits go deeper than a smile.
"It brings heart rates down and people become more calm," Taggart said.
COVID-19 concerns pumped the brakes on pet therapy visits at Trustbridge, and while Greco and Tia miss their frequent visits to hospice facilities, Greco said he knows their feelings can’t compare to the patient’s.
"I feel guilty because I'm alive and I see people in their last chapter of their life, so I feel guilty. But then again I'm happy she puts a smile on their face," Greco said.
For patients with limited time, the moments with Tia are cherished, if even for a few minutes a chance to forget and smile.
"Right now I'm feeling great. I'm not even thinking I have cancer," Vargas said.