Furry friends benefit the ill and aged
Pets can help reduce stress and increase both physical and mental abilities among some ill and aged patients suffering from isolation or depression, according to Billie Smith, executive director of Wyoming-based Therapy Dogs, Inc.
“Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging,” psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld told Aging Care. “I’ve seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago.” Donnenfeld brings her Golden Retriever to her New York City practice.
Pets are also becoming more common in senior care facilities. Volunteer teams from Wags for Hope bring dogs and cats on visits to nursing homes, hospices and hospitals. Wags for Hope aims to be a “one-stop shopping” organization providing animal visits for therapy purposes in Maryland and surrounding areas.
“Dogs take them back to a time when they were younger, when they had their own dogs. Many of the older people I work with are farm people, who remember their herding or working dogs,” Smith told Life Matters Media. She visits nursing homes on a weekly basis and has been doing so for some 20 years. “God gave us dogs to do what they do,” she said. “Some tell me they like dogs more than they like people.”
Similarly, Therapy Dogs International provides dogs to comfort seriously ill patients and grieving families. “Nursing homes were one of the first settings to graciously open their doors to the concept of Pet Therapy, which was developed by Therapy Dogs International over 30 years ago,” the organization’s website states.
TGI maintains that their pet therapy can benefit some patients’ physical and mental states. According to TGI: ”Therapy Dogs elicit responses from some nursing home patients who are typically withdrawn and limited in their abilities. Stroking the back of a dog leads to more movement from the patient and consequently, increased physical activity. The introduction of dogs increase interaction among individuals and promote a positive change in self-esteem.”
Some of their dogs even visit funeral services, because families accustomed to a certain dog and its handler request them for a “last visit.”
As Sue Halpern wrote in “A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home,” a chronicle of her experiences visiting nursing homes with her pet, Pransky: “Of all the things I learned going to County with my dog, this was the most valuable: though we are made of memories, we live only in the here and now.”
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