To qualify as a hospice volunteer, being human is not essential.  Take Arlo, for example. He’s the cutest little toy poodle you could ever hope to meet – spunky, happy, smart, intuitive. And his hospice skills are off the charts.

Arlo is an Ecumen “Hospice Hound” – a certified therapy dog who has gone through rigorous training to develop his exceptional bedside manner. Just looking at him, you probably wouldn’t guess how truly skilled he is. In fact, he recently surprised even his admiring owner, Judy Drobeck, with his keen instincts for patient care.

Arlo and Judy (also a trained hospice volunteer) were regularly visiting “Mary,” a hospice patient at Ecumen Seasons at Maplewood. Arlo and Mary had a special bond – and a routine. Arlo would visit her in a common area in memory care. “Hello, baby!” she would say with a big smile each time he arrived. He would sit on her lap, basking in her admiration, facing out toward the room while she petted him.

Then one day, something was different. This time, without prompting, Arlo cuddled up at Mary’s left side, leaning in and snuggling as close as he could. He was still and quiet as she took her frail left arm and cradled it around his body.

Then Arlo did something that therapy dogs typically are not supposed to do. He licked her hand repeatedly. Then he reached up and, just once, licked the tip of her nose.

On the one hand, Judy was mortified. One the other hand, she had this sense that he knew exactly what he was doing – and that he was doing the right thing.

He was. Since their previous visit, Judy learned that Mary had experienced a stroke, causing paralysis on her right side and taking away her ability to speak or swallow. Arlo instinctively went to her left side to cuddle close to her body, and he licked her still-working left hand – giving therapeutic sensations that Mary could understand.

Normal visits are about 30 minutes. This time, Arlo signaled an end in about 15 minutes. “It was like he sensed that she was tired,” Judy said. “For the entire visit he connected in a way that was more psychic – at a deeper level. He knew something was different, and how he reacted was a very moving thing to watch.”

Arlo went home and took an unusually long nap that day. Mary died a few days later.

When Cori Ballew, Ecumen Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, talked to Judy about the visit, “it gave me the chills,” she said.

Arlo enthusiastically continues his work, and sometimes gets a “puppy latte” at Caribou afterwards.  Judy says he’s so eager to get to sessions that he practically drags her through the doors when they are making a visit. He knows he’s needed, and he knows what to do.

Thank you for your service, Arlo and Judy.


Interested in becoming a hospice volunteer with your pet? Ecumen Hospice animal-visitor volunteer program is called “Hospice Hounds.” Pets must be registered with an approved therapy animal association, and their humans need to go through hospice volunteer screening and training.  For more information go to the Ecumen Hospice website at this link.  Or contact Cori Ballew at or 651-571-6895.