Pet Therapy: Meet EveryStep Hospice Volunteer Abby Slife and Her Dog Sunny

EveryStep Hospice volunteer Abby Slife’s pull to service as a volunteer began years ago while living in Arizona. “I started to feel a strong calling to get involved with hospice. Our children were young at the time and I did not feel I had the time to volunteer back then, so I tabled that calling for a while,” says Abby.

After moving to Iowa in 2014, Abby was invited to join the board of directors for Dream Catcher's Foundation, Inc., whose mission is to serve the terminally and critically ill and their caregivers by offering complimentary haircuts, massages, facials and make-up application. “Through this organization, I completed the hospice training and decided to volunteer directly for EveryStep (then HCI Hospice Care Services).

It wasn’t long before Abby enlisted a friend to come with her on her hospice visits – her dog, Sunny.

“I thought people would enjoy our visits more if I had Sunny with me," says Abby. “We got ourselves certified as a pet therapy team with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and the rest is history. I was indeed correct that my visits appear to be much more meaningful with Sunny by my side.”

Abby and Sunny currently provide pet therapy and companionship visits at EveryStep’s Bright Kavanagh Center in east Des Moines every other Sunday morning and have been doing so for over five years.

“Volunteering, in general, fills me with joy and gratitude, but volunteering with hospice is a uniquely special opportunity,” says Abby. “I want to make sure that the time they spend with Sunny and me is special. I welcome their stories; I love to hold their hand or help them with sips of water. Even if they are sleeping, I can sit on the couch and read, waiting for them to awaken and possibly need my help or find comfort in knowing that they have not been alone. People always comment that they ‘don't know how I do it,’ but the reality is, volunteering with the dying teaches me a whole lot about how to LIVE.”

A busy wife and mom of 15-year-old Sam and 11-year-old Adam, and in her sixth year as a special education associate in the Ankeny School District, Abby is also a published author. “The Magic of Winter” is a children’s book published in 2019, available at “I love to read, write and work in our yard with my husband,” says Abby.

Abby says her volunteer experience with Every Step is rewarding on many levels. “Over and over, patients and their caregivers tell me how much compassion and empathy they feel from everyone at EveryStep; therefore, I am proud to be part of such a special team. One of my favorite visits was with a woman who was 106 and still full of life. Where else would you get to spend an hour with a woman born in the early 1900s? She was really special.”

You might say volunteering is a family tradition for Abby. “My parents did a lot of volunteering when I was a kid and that passion for service was instilled in me young. I hope that both my husband and my commitment to volunteering rubs off on our own children. Volunteering feels good for my soul and I plan to do so until my last breath. Making time for it is a gift, not a burden.”

To learn about volunteering opportunities with EveryStep, visit

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946. Or, complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website.