Americans are passionate about our pets. Over 50 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet.  Pets provide companionship and unconditional love often unmatched by human counterparts. Pets can also be an important source of comfort for those facing an advanced illness or grieving the loss of a loved one. This is particularly true for children trying to process the loss of a parent, sibling, or other loved one.

Capital Caring—one of the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit hospices—recognizes that animals are an important part of helping children process grief.  We offer time with specially-trained therapy animals as part of our bereavement programs for children and teens. Therapy dog visits are also part of our Point of Hope Camps. And, as of 2018, we offer pet therapy through Regan’s Caring Zones.

Regan’s Caring Zones are specially-designated pet therapy sessions for children who have lost a parent or sibling. Capital Caring hosts Caring Zones throughout Fredericksburg, VA to provide grieving children a safe space to interact with therapy dogs. The children play games, read books to the dogs and, more than anything, connect with other children who have experienced loss. Bereavement counselors are also present to facilitate conversations with the goal of helping the kids learn how to cope with their grief and express themselves in a healthy way.

Tara Hoit, Director of Children’s Services at Capital Caring, explained that by offering bereavement programs that include pet therapy, Capital Caring finds a way to meet children where they are in their bereavement process. She provided one example of how a therapy dog helped two children who were otherwise unable to express their grief:

“A pair of little girls whose father was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way home didn’t share anything at Point of Hope camp during our sharing circles and other activities designed to encourage them to open up about their grief. But they sobbed into a golden retriever’s fur and told him all about their Daddy. One even asked the dog to tell her Daddy how much she missed him.”

While it’s usually dogs that participate in Capital Caring’s programs, Tara described a special outing from last fall that involved a different type of service animal: “We had a Regan’s Caring Zone at a horse farm where the children groomed, fed and loved on the horses before bravely riding them. It was so amazing to watch!” 

Regan’s Caring Zones were created in loving memory of Regan Bailey.  In 2008, Regan was the victim of a violent crime that cut short her young life. Seeking a way to honor Regan, and her compassion for both people and animals, her sister, Meredith, contacted Capital Caring about supporting bereavement programs that included pet therapy. Through generous donations from Meredith, her family and friends, Capital Caring announced its new pet therapy offerings through “Regan’s Caring Zones” on August 23, 2018 – what would have been Regan’s 37th birthday.

One year later, Capital Caring wishes to thank all those who have honored Regan’s memory through their support of Regan’s Caring Zones. During Regan’s birthday month (August), we ask that you join us in supporting Capital Caring’s pet therapy programs — like Regan’s Caring Zones — that provide meaningful support to grieving children.

Watch this space as we’ll be looking for volunteers, partners and funding as we expand our pet therapy programs. Join us by making a gift of support: www.capitalcaring.org/donate

For more information and how to help, please contact Tara Hoit at thoit@www.capitalcaring.org or 540-891-1200.