Skip to Main Content

Hospice Therapy Dog Leaves a Legacy of Love & Memories

On most days, the jingle of the cookie jar at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House means that you will soon be greeted by a furry, paw-footed friend. Now, the jingle brings back bittersweet memories of JJ, the beloved hospice therapy dog, who passed away this December after a battle with canine lymphoma.

JJ, the 7-year-old affectionate golden retriever, volunteered as a therapy dog at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice since its opening in 2012. JJ was introduced to therapy by her owner, Tracy Calhoun. Calhoun works as a nurse at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House and also trains dogs with Project Canine, a non-profit that works with and trains therapy dogs.

“Each therapy dog is different in the way that they provide comfort,” said Calhoun. “JJ was unique in that she was very intuitive and knew when someone needed her.” Calhoun has received several comments from staff throughout the years saying that JJ always seemed to show up when they were having a tough day.

“JJ loved her job and always accompanied me to work during my shift. If I left her at home, I came back to blankets torn into Swiss cheese,” said Calhoun.

One of the things JJ did best was the hospice walkout ceremony. When a patient dies at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House, staff members line the hallway to say goodbye and honor the patient one last time as they are wheeled out. JJ took it upon herself to wait at the door of the deceased patient’s room and walk alongside the deceased as they left the Hospice House.

“This is not something that JJ was trained to do, but something she taught herself and diligently did during each walkout,” explained Calhoun.

While the majority of JJ’s therapy was done at the Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House, JJ’s furry face and warm, gentle touches helped many others. Besides being a certified therapy dog, JJ and Calhoun also served victims of disasters through HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response. They were commissioned to help during the landslide in Oso, Wash., and also provided therapy to students in the Corvallis School District during a time of a loss.

Beyond her therapy work, JJ loved to be spend time with puppies. “She was drawn to puppies. There has not been a puppy that she didn’t claim as hers,” said Calhoun.
During her last days, JJ was able to spend time with a litter of golden retriever puppies. Calhoun will be keeping one of the females in the litter to train as a therapy dog, with hopes that she too will be able to provide comfort to patients and families at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House.

Many have contributed donations in honor of JJ, to date more than $5,400 has been raised to support the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the largest and most comprehensive observational study ever attempted in veterinary medicine in the United States.