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Can Your Dog be a Therapy Dog asks Work at Home Grandma

Updated on September 14, 2014

Therapy Dogs

It is a proven fact that having an animal increases the life of an elderly person, offering them love and contentment every day. Animals give the lonely and elderly a reason for living. Dogs especially have been effective in reaching those who have withdrawn from the world.

Many years ago my mother had a stroke. Much changed for every member of our family. We all learned a great deal about making tough decisions, about being a caregiver, and most of all about the many ways of loving and caring for the elderly; be it one’s own parent or even a stranger.

It was a year after mom’s stroke that she fell and broke her arm and hip. After surgery she was sent to a rehabilitation facility until she could walk again. On one of my daily visits to Good Samaritan Nursing Home, I was pleasantly surprised to a see a large black Labrador strolling the halls as if he owned the place. He’d stop by certain patients and they would pet him lovingly and smile. Then he’d mosey on his way to someone else. Back and forth he would walk the halls. When I questioned the nursing staff they indicated he was owned by one of the nurses and was used as a therapy dog. Most of the staff and residents looked forward to the visits and having the dog around made the center feel more like home.

My mother was very fond of my ten pound Bichon Frise. Punky had come to our home an orphan herself and we had fallen deeply in love with her. She was the gentlest dog we’d ever chanced to meet. Even sound asleep you could pick her up and she wouldn’t even growl or flinch but just relax in your arms. Mom loved to hold Punky when she’d come to visit and Punky loved my mother. Seeing the Labrador gave me an idea and I asked if Punky could visit. I was granted permission and so began our journey.

Punky and I, along with my Lhasa-poo, visited mom several times a week. But it wasn’t just Mom that benefited from the visits but all the residents that happened to be up and about. Punky was elated to receive so much adoration, as she loved everyone she met. In fact, I’d never known Punky to growl at a single soul, except the mailman, of course. As she would allow the residents to hold her and pet her, I noticed their smiles reached far beyond their mouth to a twinkle that appeared in their eyes. Even my Lhasa-poo who was more skittish was accepted by the residents. Each time we would visit, we were greeted warmly and remembered from week to week. I was amazed that such short visits could bring about so much happiness. I think of those days often and miss my mother now that she has left us for her eternal home. In fact, Punky also has joined her over the Rainbow Bridge.

Before her passing, Punky went on to become a full-time therapy dog. My daughter, Janette, had some free time on her hands and inquired at the Good Samaritan about bringing Punky to visit on a regular basis.

But times had changed in a few short years and now there was an entire process in place. Janette went to the nursing home and interviewed with the social worker in charge of social activities. She had to give references about herself and talk about Punky. They needed to verify if Punky’s immunizations were up to date, ask about her temperament, and arrange for a trial visit. There were guidelines for Janette also, as each nursing home must adhere to the patient’s bill of rights. There are strict regulations governing the manner in which the patients are addressed and the privacy guidelines about the patients’ names or particular medical condition. This is an important part of being a therapy volunteer.

Two weeks later Punky had her interview visit. Thinking she was going to the doctor, a fate she thought deplorable, Punky shook all the way to the clinic. But when she realized they were only going for a visit, she immediately relaxed. Janette introduced her to the social worker and then the three of them strolled from room to room introducing themselves to the patients.

Punky remained relaxed and alert throughout the visit, allowing each person to pet her; occasionally being asked to sit on someone’s lap. One patient wept, recalling the dog she’d had as a child; one gentleman said that Punky was much too tiny. The initial orientation went better than expected and all the patients were told that Punky would be back in two weeks. They put her picture up on the bulletin board and allowed the patients to sign up for a visit. Two weeks later Janette and Punky went for their first visit unattended by the social worker. Janette was a little nervous as this was a whole new experience for her too. Punky, on the other hand, remembered the previous visit and was excited to see her new friends again. The smiles on the faces of patients were worth everything to Janette and Punky.

The majority of the elderly had pets at one time or another in their lives thus they looked back at those times and recalled their own special memories. Their eyes were aglow as they remembered those happy times with their own pet. One elderly gentleman actually serenaded Punky with an old German melody he’d sung as a child. It was a heart-wrenching moment to see the brief touch of fulfillment as tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks.

If you have a special animal, you too can bring happiness and cheer to people who need something to hold and love. If you have a pet that is friendly and outgoing that you would like to share with others, it is a simple procedure to get involved. A telephone call to your local hospital or nursing home is all that necessary to get started.

Today there are resources available for those who wish to get involved in helping others. There is even a website called that can be accessed for help in beginning this program. They actually help owners use their own dogs for work in various places such as nursing homes and hospitals. They even work with the mentally and physically handicapped. They welcome purebreds as well as mixed breeds.

If you have a special dog, why not share it with those in need. One day each of us may face a life in a nursing home; one day we may need someone to care and reach out with the love that can trigger our own special memories.


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