Purse Party for Pets raises money to care for pets of hospice patients

Tiny Chihuahua Brownie plays a big role in the McQueen household.

He's a bodyguard and companion to 88-year-old Mary McQueen, who's in hospice care.

To Mary's daughter and caregiver Denise, Brownie is a helper and confidant.

Brownie alerts Denise to Mary's moods and levels of comfort and gives both women a lot of laughs and a little bit of adventure during this difficult time in their lives.

Denise, 54, considers it a blessing to take care of her mother as she nears the end of her life, but being a full-time caregiver comes with some stress.

Brownie is a calming presence.

Director of Volunteer Services for Columbus Hospice, Inc. Terri Roberts says that's a role that many animals play in the lives of hospice patients and their caregivers.

"Animals are a constant companion," Terri says. "It is calming to have them around all the time."

It can be financially draining for hospice patients' families to care for their loved ones' animals, which is why the Pet Peace of Mind Program exists. The program provides veterinary services, grooming services and pet food for patients' pets.

A fundraiser for the program is set for 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at Green Island Country Club. A live purse auction, with local male "celebrities" modeling bags and a silent auction will be highlights of the luncheon.

Nurse Brownie

Brownie lays near Mary's feet when she's resting and alerts Denise if Mary is feeling ill or is in pain.

"He's like a nurse himself sometimes," Denise says.

His most valuable role is probably that of companion, though. "He's her best friend in the whole wide world," Denise says about Brownie and Mary.

"Just looking at Mary and Brownie, you can feel that special connection," Terri says.

Mary says Brownie is a great listener and never far from her side.

"He's a cuddler," Mary says.

Brownie is no saint, though.

"Brownie is a very sweet dog, at times," Mary says. "When he's not chewing up things."

He loves to unroll toilet paper and hide things.

"Sometimes he gets her (Mary's) hair roller and just runs through the house with it," Denise says.

Roles reversed

Although Mary and Denise are grateful for the time they have together, it's not easy for Denise to tell Mary what to do and it's not always easy for easy for Mary to listen.

"She gets bossy with me," Mary says. "When she's acting like the boss I just have to get quiet."

"Acting? Oh I know who's the Big Kahuna here, don't worry," Denise says.

Losing some of her independence has been hard for Mary. She enjoys being busy and worked as an elevator operator at Kiralfy's Department Store for 25 years and then worked for 33 years at Schomburg's Jewelers, before retiring in 2009.

"I just enjoyed being around people," Mary says.

Now, she likes to visit with others but because she doesn't drive anymore, she relies on Denise to take her places.

"She's a good driver but she's too slow for me," Mary says.

Denise responds, "You used to be like Batman, flying down the road."

To care for her mother, Denise has had to learn to communicate differently with Mary.

"Sometimes she just can't express herself the same way," Denise says.

When Mary's mind wanders and she has trouble finding the right words, Denise must relax and listen.

"It was really, really scary at first," Denise says. "It's like going down the yellow brick road," she says.

Denise briefly studied mental health at Columbus College, predecessor to Columbus State University, after graduating from Carver in 1977. She's surprised that she remembers some of what she learned and uses that knowledge in her caregiver role.

"I've got her back and she's got my back but sometimes we get frustrated with each other," Denise says.

When she gets overwhelmed, Denise takes a mental vacation. "I just start going to the Bahamas, I've never been there, but that's where my mind goes... There I am, and I'm drinking a Bahama Mama. I didn't go anywhere and I'm not sippin' on anything except maybe a Coca-Cola but I feel better," she says.

When Mary feels tense, she turns to Brownie, who comforts her by snuggling close.

Purse Party for Pets

What: A fundraiser for The Columbus Hospice Pet Peace of Mind Program, which helps patients keep their pets with them. Since the program's inception in January 2010, over 95 pets have been able to stay with their loved ones at no cost to the patients and their families.

When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9

Where: The Green Island Country Club.

Tickets: Cost is $30.

Information: 706-243-0044.