Share Furry Blessings

pet therapy dog visiting senior male patient

Daisy was a black Labrador mix we adopted at 8 weeks old. She never knew a stranger and was my husband’s constant companion. She was the type of dog that would have been a perfect friend to visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers, and adult day centers. I assumed in order to visit, Daisy would have to be a certified therapy dog. Had I known that was not the case, we would have visited together.

Many centers welcome pet visitors with some guidelines. Whether large or small, well-behaved dogs that are comfortable among a variety of people can brighten the day of residents, patients, and others. In fact, activity director Samantha Weingross of Landmark of Lancaster, a rehabilitation and nursing center in Kentucky, has some residents who participate in activities only when pets visit. Some residents have even overcome fear of dogs, and hospice residents have responded well to visits from furry friends. According to Canines for Christ, there are clinical, scientific, and spiritual benefits for pet owners, pets, and those they visit. These benefits include lessening depression, lowering anxiety, reducing boredom, and decreasing feelings of isolation. Blood pressure is lowered, communication is encouraged, and endorphins that have a calming effect are released.

If you think your well-behaved dog might be good at sharing furry love, then use these guidelines to get started:

  1. Schedule a visit with the center’s activity director. Except for mealtimes, any time of day is usually acceptable, but afternoon visits are better. Some centers may limit your visit to common areas or outdoor patios.
  2. Ensure your dog is up-to-date on all shots. Bring a copy of its shot record with you for the center’s files.
  3. Keep in mind that your dog should respond well to simple commands like “sit” and “stay” and walk well on a leash. Keep your pet on a shortened 4-foot leash right next to you at all times, so no retractable leashes.
  4. Bathe and groom your pet and trim its nails before visiting.
  5. Plan for short visits at the beginning. Consider that your dog will be around unfamiliar smells, sounds, equipment, and people.
  6. Pack treats and a water bowl. Encourage those you visit to share treats with your pet. Be mindful of dropped food or medicines that might be hazardous to your dog.
  7. Offer to pray for those you visit, both residents and staff.
  8. Encourage other dog owner friends to join you, and arrange to visit as a group.
  9. If the center prefers certified therapy dogs, contact Canines for Christ, Therapy Dogs International, or Alliance of Therapy Dogs for information on local training centers. Your dog should be at least a year old and in good health and have passed basic obedience class to be certified.

Remember that not all residents will want to pet your dog and some may be afraid. For others, pet visitors bring support, affection, and comfort. Frequent visits can alleviate fears and create friendships. These visits can also open opportunities to share the love of Christ as your pet breaks down barriers in communication.

Lynn Durham is a pastor’s wife in Kentucky longing for another dog to share with others.

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