Seasoned Service: Visiting peers and helping pets spread some ‘happy’

In the 10 years that Barbara Davis has volunteered at Tucson Medical Center, helping to facilitate pet therapy visits to recuperating patients, she has experienced grief and joy and felt loss and renewal.

She lost her husband of 51 years, a beautiful soul and a solid family man. She watched her two sons progress in their careers and her five granddaughters grow up. Her sister has health issues.

Her own pets will never have the unruffled temperaments needed for therapy work, but when her long-haired Chihuahua and a bearded Collie just celebrated 10 years of age, they did it with birthday cake.

Barbara Davis

Barbara Davis

If there’s one thing she’s learned from both life and the time she has spent at TMC, with the ailing and the recovering, it’s this: “I’m doing as much as possible because you never know what life will bring you next.”

Davis found TMC through a postcard inquiring if she would like to know more about volunteering for TMC Senior Services.

At the time, she had recently retired as an accountant for special education funding at Tucson Unified School District, where she worked for 22 years. Although she was busy with her family, it was time, she felt, to add another dimension. After weeks of training in active listening skills and learning nuances about working with older adults, she was ready to begin.

Davis, who is well-known in the hospital for her work with the pet therapy program, said she appreciates how friendly TMC is. “I’ve become good friends with staff, going to their baby showers and watching their children grow up. Several people came to pay respects at my husband’s celebration of life. When you come once a week for 10 years, you become close.”

Davis jokes that volunteering sometimes brings unexpected moments of levity. She had a special request to visit an older woman who was deeply unhappy about being hospitalized. Davis was determined to cheer her. “I sat next to her and after a minute of chit chat and my big smile, she then she said to me, ‘You know, I am blind but I can see that you are really overweight!’ Some you win and others you lose,” she joked.

In addition to serving as pet escort for the pet therapy program, she has had seven different peer relationships with seniors in their homes through TMC Senior Services. Her first assignment was with an 84-year-old who lived in an assisted living home. They bonded over shared connections from their previous homes in Tempe, and they would have high tea each birthday. She visited her throughout the rest of her lifetime, until losing her at hospice.

She has learned about the things that shaped their lives, big and small. One peer had a great fondness for fish sandwiches. Another needed help researching her 50th class reunion. Her most recent friend is 90 and from Germany and enjoys hearing about Davis’ granddaughters. Each added to her life.

“It’s so beneficial to do this kind of work,” Davis said. “I enjoy meeting people and I like the fact we’re making them happy, and the staff is thrilled to see us. When I visit dear friends in their homes, I try to be the best listener I can. They want to tell their stories, which gives me a sense of their history. I truly enjoy being with them.”


  1. Linda Tumarkin says:

    It’s Slways a pleasure working with Barbara!

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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