Wagging Tails Bring Comfort to EveryStep Hospice Patients in Council Bluffs Area

Marlene and Bruce Sprain of Glenwood have been visiting hospice patients with their dogs for about 17 years. Partnering with the EveryStep Hospice team in Council Bluffs, the Sprains and their dogs bring comfort and smiles to patients in southwest Iowa.

“We have always had dogs,” says Bruce. “We decided we wanted to visit nursing homes and hospice patients, so we got two dogs certified through a program at PetSmart. Our original dogs, Flo and Hank, have passed. Now we have Tena and Jack. Jack is the Labrador and he’s large enough so that he can put his head on a person’s lap who is in a wheelchair or bed. Tena is smaller, but she can still get in there to be petted or lifted up for attention.”

While Jack and Tena definitely get excited when their official “therapy dog” vests are put on them, Bruce says they aren’t necessarily selflessly volunteering their time to bring joy to others. “Let’s be real — they’re thinking ‘Man, we’re going to ride in the car, get petted and be fed treats!’”

Marlene and Bruce are both retired and while they enjoy their free time, Bruce says nothing brings them more joy than doing things for others, whether that’s helping neighbors, mentoring kids or volunteering with EveryStep Hospice. “We’re not saints!” insists Bruce. “We don’t want to be so committed that it seems like we have a job. EveryStep lets us volunteer on our schedule so we feel like we’re really having fun with our visits. The flexibility is really what makes the program work for us.”

The dogs’ innate sense of a situation makes their visits especially important. “Having the dogs visit sparks memories for many of our patients who talk about the dogs they had when they were kids. Sometimes, our patients [are near death] and family and friends have gathered. Then the dog visits become a welcome respite for these folks who spend some time talking to and petting the dogs,” says Bruce.

With the patient’s permission, the Sprains take a photo of the patient with the dogs and give them a copy to display. “We have been to many funeral visitations where [that picture] is displayed, which speaks to the impact our visits have had on the family. Sometimes our dogs have gotten invitations to attend a visitation themselves, which has been a real honor for us.”

Marlene and Bruce have lived in Glenwood for about 20 years. Marlene gardens, swims and maintains a roadside library. She also has special “cookie days,” which are a favorite of the neighbor kids. Marlene sponsors and provides prizes for the “Carol Smith Library Reading Challenge,” named after a neighbor who passed away. Bruce likes to hunt, fish, target shoot and ride motorcycles. He’s a welder and has created many community projects around Glenwood. When the opportunity arises, Bruce provides mentorship for boys in the community.

EveryStep has a variety of volunteer needs across Iowa. If you are interested in volunteering with EveryStep, visit https://www.everystep.org/volunteer.

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 at www.everystep.org/find-care. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.