Posted on Feb 18, 2015
Tammy had been going to the nursing home for several weeks with her dog Buffy, an Australian Cattle Dog that had recently been certified through the American Kennel Club’s Therapy Dog™ program. She had seen an older woman named Jean sitting alone in her room, observing Tammy and Buffy as they visited other residents, but not actively seeking a visit from them. One evening, as Tammy was wrapping up her visit at the nursing home, she stopped at the door to Jean’s room and asked her if she would like a visit from Buffy. Jean hesitated and instantly became uncomfortable as the dog started to enter her room. Buffy stopped and Tammy asked Jean if she would like to pet Buffy. Tentatively, Jean extended a frail hand to touch Buffy’s spotted coat. Buffy wagged her tail; Jean smiled. Buffy moved a little closer and gently put her head in Jean’s lap. Jean began to actively pet Buffy’s fluffy coat, smiling even more. After a few minutes, with tears in her eyes, Jean said to Tammy, “this is the first time in over 50 years that I’ve touched a dog. I was bitten as a child and I’ve been afraid of dogs ever since. But your Buffy is so gentle and sweet… could you bring her back to visit me again?”
Tammy is my friend… and her story is heartbreakingly touching. She and Buffy live here in the Lehigh Valley and have just begun visiting nursing homes as a pet therapy team this year. Tammy reports that since her initial “meet and greet,” Jean looks forward to Buffy’s weekly visit. Once deathly afraid of dogs, her face now lights up when Buffy enters her room. And Buffy always greets her with a wagging tail and a soft, adoring gaze.
Minor miracles like Buffy and Jean’s happen every week…in every town…in every state across the country. The number of pet therapy organizations – as well as certified pets – is growing every year. And that’s because studies have shown that even just 15 minutes of bonding with a pet can have significant benefits for seniors. Blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels decrease, and their mood instantly becomes brighter. Although people of any age can reap the benefits from interacting with a dog or cat, seniors are often living in relative isolation, whether at home or in a care facility, and suffer from depression, loneliness and loss of mobility.
A weekly visit from a therapy dog can have an amazing – and nearly instantaneous – effect on their outlook on life, as well as on their physical health. They enjoy the unconditional and loving attention from a pet without the responsibility and expense
of pet ownership.
A study conducted by Therapy Dogs International involving 200 respondents living in residential facilities or nursing homes cited a number of measurable, positive benefits from pet therapy programs:
• increased physical movement/mobility
• decreased blood pressure
• increased alertness, verbalization and socialization
• less negativity/more positive mental outlook
• and greater cooperation with staff and health care professional
Physically, touching and interacting with pets for even a few minutes causes our brains
to release “feel good” hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. These hormones, in turn, may protect against depression, heart disease and stroke, and often reduce the need for, or amounts of, daily medications.
Mentally and emotionally, pet therapy visits often make the difference between a loved one who feels isolated and depressed and one who is interactive and engaged. Even dementia patients may reminisce about pets they once had, or break their silence to have a “conversation” directly with the pet. Often they may form a friendship with the handler whose visits give them something to look forward to.
Pet Therapy In The Lehigh Valley
Pet therapy can have amazing results, especially for seniors who are homebound or living in a residential care facility. If you believe that your loved one would benefit from a therapy dog visit either at home or at the facility where they reside, request a visit by contacting organizations such as:
Lehigh Valley Therapy Dogs: lvtherapydogs.org
Paw with Patience: (215) 529-6570
And if you have a dog that enjoys interaction with people of all ages and you would like to get certified as a pet therapy team, check out these websites to get started:
AKC Therapy Dog™ Program: http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/akc-therapy-dog-program/
Therapy Dogs Inc: www.therapydogs.com