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Millie brings comfort to those in their final days, loved ones

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MARION (WSIL) -- Not all heroes wear capes, some wear a collar and are named Millie.

The two-year-old King Charles Cavalier visits and brings comfort to Hospice of Southern Illinois patients and their loved ones. But, many things transpired before Millie to get her to this journey.

That starts with once southern Illinois resident Stephen Smith, who was a photographer. He used to travel around the region taking individual and class photos for schools.

Smith was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and his daughter Melise Oakley says she and her family stepped in to get him a puppy, Millie.

Extreme K-9, which is affiliated with This Able Vet, trained Millie and Oakley says she had no idea how much of an impact it would make on her father's last year.

"It was a battle every day and it's crazy how it (Alzheimer's) affects the brain and every day functioning," Oakley remembers. "She was there just to help calm him down."

Smith passed away on August 23, 2019 and Oakley wanted to find a way to help others going through a similar situation.

Especially as prior to his diagnosis, Oakley's father would visit family battling Alzheimer's and meet residents at long-term care facilities quickly making friends.

"I feel like Millie is an extension of my father's legacy," she says. "He would visit those at facilities and loved it."

Just a few months later, Oakley found a job at Hospice of Southern Illinois as the organization's Community Education Coordinator out of the Marion office serving 15 counties.

Since then, Oakley has been taking Millie to visit with patients several times a week putting a smile on their face.

"It's amazing to see how she can transform people's moods," Oakley explains. "She lightens up a room and she just changes it."

However it also has a profound impact on loved ones and caregivers. Oakley recalls a wife's emotional reaction to Millie and her husband.

"She was sitting on his lap and he smiled ear to ear," Oakley remembers. "His wife started crying and I thought something was wrong."

The woman then told Oakley that she hadn't seen her husband smile in three months.

Millie also stops to see those who live in long-term care facilities and assisted living bringing them ice cream. Many of which, are unable to see family due to safety precautions over COVID-19.

"Who doesn't like to pet a sweet dog," Oakley says with a smile. "Just even the touch of Millie because her fur coat is so soft that helps moods."

Those visits also act as a stress relief to nurses as they continue to work through the pandemic.

She hopes to do more community outreach with the possibility of taking Millie to schools and adult day centers for those with mental and physical disabilities.

Oakley adds that it's also about spreading awareness in the region about Hospice of Southern Illinois and what it does for those in the community.

Not only does the organization provide end of life care with dignity but also providing free bereavement services to loved ones, which includes social workers who are there to lend an ear.

Those interested in a visit from Millie should contact Melise Oakley at Hospice of Southern Illinois at (618) 997-3030.

More information on Hospice of Southern Illinois can be found here.

Brooke Schlyer

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