As a therapy dog, Baxter comforted hundreds of hospice patients in their final hours. This year, old age caught up with Baxter.
The chow-golden retriever lost much of his body fur and use of his legs, so his owner Melissa Joseph made him a special red wagon that she pulled from door to door so he could visit hospice patients.
She would lift him onto the patient's bed, even though he weighed 36 pounds. Then frail arms would circle his neck or gnarled hands would stroke his fur and he and patients would share uncomplicated, unhurried moments that often turned into hours.
Baxter died this month at 19 1/2, one of the oldest working therapy dogs in the United States. A memorial service Wednesday at the San Diego Hospice and The Institute for Palliative Medicine drew nearly 100 friends, family and staff. A YouTube video tribute has been watched by more than 315,000 people.
"He licked tears from grieving faces, gave hugs to those at a loss for words, and warmed the hearts and souls of those who were making their transition," Joseph wrote in her online eulogy. "Everyone loved Baxter."
Baxter was always surrounded by a crowd when he visited several times a week, said Lisa McCullough, spiritual counselor for the inpatient care center. Some patients who refused to share their life stories with staff would talk freely if Baxter was in the room.
Here is a tribute video to Baxter:
Heroes come in many forms.