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Blog: Stories and Insight

About Samaritan’s Pet Therapy Volunteers

Pet therapy in a hospice setting provides comfort, support, and companionship through the use of an animal. Samaritan offers pet therapy through already-certified dogs because seeing and touching a furry friend brings peace and joy to families and is a welcome distraction from serious illness and end of life.

Meet Samaritan’s pet therapy dogs:


Stanley, Tiberius and Gus are owned by Curt Merker.

Stanley, a 15-month-old rescue pit bull, is the most recent addition to this loving pack and is following in the footsteps of his two dog brothers by going on five pet therapy visits so far. Stanley loves people and playing with Gus.  When he’s not at play, loves to stay by Curt’s side. He isn’t a fan of other dogs barking.

Tiberius, rescued from the Burlington County Animal Shelter, is a 10-year-old pit bull boxer mix that likes people, dogs, car rides, swimming, and soft pretzels. Ty, despite disliking rain and cold weather, has completed 1,200 visits in his career as a pet-therapy dog so far. He’s a member of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Pin Ups for Pit Bulls, and Crisis Response Canines.

As a member of Crisis Response Canines, he’s traveled around the country after mass shootings to give emotional support to wounded police, first responders, and families.

Curt says, “We didn’t want Tiberius to be just another family dog. We felt the need to share him so others could experience the love he gives every day.”

Gus is a four-year-old shepherd husky mix rescued from a shelter in Waco, TX, loves cold weather, playing fetch, and visit schools, but dislikes flying insects. He’s extremely laid back and has completed more than 706 visits in three and a half years. As with Ty, he visits hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities, schools, conventions, conferences, and other special events. Gus is also a member of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Crisis Response Canines.

Curt adds, “We got Gus because we knew Ty was getting older and wanted to continue our therapy work for years to come. We expanded our visits to include Samaritan because we knew our dogs could help families take their minds off their emotional situation – even if for only five or ten minutes.”



Mindy Brooks is “mom” to seven-year-old Golden Doodle, Oprah. Oprah loves balls, toys, cuddling, long walks, her family, and helping others. Mindy, who already volunteered for Samaritan visiting patients and families as a way to give back after the care the organization provided for her mom, wanted to also spend more time with her pup. Therefore, she decided to get Oprah certified as a pet therapy dog. “Now I could do both, a win-win!” says Mindy.

She also adds, “Oprah intuitively knows what people need and always has a smile on her face. It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of patient’s lives and give them a reason to smile.”






Maria Gifford knew Django, a golden retriever, was the puppy for her when he waited patiently for his meal and found her easily as she played a game of hide and seek with him. At the time, he was only five weeks old. Now, three years old, he likes going on walks, sniffing everything, and swimming and running agility courses.

Django, a member of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and the American Kennel Club, is extremely happy to sit with patients and their families for as long as they need. Maria says, “As I watch people smiling as they pet him and forgetting where they were going or what they were doing just before they stopped to pet him, I realize he has a gift to mentally transport someone out of his/her element, if only for a short time.”

Maria decided to volunteer for Samaritan because the organization cared for both of her parents. “The comfort and compassion the staff showed our family was such a gift to us it only makes sense to pay that gift forward to other Samaritan families,” she says, so “volunteering feels right.”

Call us now to learn more about complementary hospice services: (800) 229-8183