Encore September 2014

Page 12

good works ENCORE

Compassionate Canine

Merlin and ‘his person’ provide comfort for victims, vets C

omfort therapy is just what it sounds like — emotional and moral support for those in need of comfort, whether after a natural disaster like a tornado, flood or fire, after personal trauma, or even during end-of-life care. Comfort therapy offers love, support, sympathy and sometimes a much-needed distraction. Susan Bandsma and her dog, Merlin, a Borzoi, are a part of the American Red Cross Southwest Michigan-based K9 Action Team, which provides comfort therapy for those in need. The team includes one other dog, a Portuguese Water Dog named Piper, based in Grand Rapids. Together the two dogs and the people who work with them make up one of only two K9 Action Teams in the nation (the other is in Ohio). Bandsma and Merlin provide comfort therapy to victims of disasters, like the Holiday Motel fire in Kalamazoo last year, to those receiving end-of-life care, like residents at Hospice at Home, and to veterans in crisis, like the patients at the Battle Creek VA Medical Center. The American Red Cross business cards that Bandsma passes out are Merlin’s — they include his picture, his name and his position (Comfort Therapy Volunteer), and if you call Bandsma about the K9 Action Team, she’ll tell you she’s “Merlin’s person.” Speaking to Bandsma, it’s easy to get the impression that Merlin is the driving force in the partnership. “I honestly believe he was born to be a comfort therapy dog,” she says. “He’s so good at it. He knows when to stay by somebody Susan Bandsma and Merlin provide comfort therapy for veterans and disaster victims as part of an American Red Cross K9 Action Team.

12 | Encore SEPTEMBER 2014

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