Rainy and I dropped in on a patient who I had been told was missing her cat. She held and petted Rainy as we talked about our cats. When the time came for us to leave, she looked up at me from her hospital bed, and with a big smile on her face, she said, “You made my day!”
Shaundra Montague, a State of Nebraska Certified Activities Director and Dementia Practitioner at a retirement community, said that she’d like to increase the number of therapy pet visits at the retirement community where she works. “Right now, I’m at about once a week. My residents would love more.”
Jillian Harold, in her position as a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, utilizes pet therapy teams to enhance her patients’ quality of life, believing that pet therapy teams provide comfort, peace, and soothing companionship for those who are on their end of life journey. “Many of our clients or their family members request therapy pets because they once had pets but are unable to care for a pet full time and miss that bond with them,” Harold said.
Studies have found that therapy pets provide a number of benefits: releases the happy endorphins, lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, and decreases physical pain. Mental benefits include: encourages communication, increases socialization, provides comfort, lowers feelings of isolation and alienation, and lessens depression and anxiety.
At the facilities where Montague and Harold work, a variety of therapy pets are welcome.
“Any pet could be a therapy pet,” said Montague. “The residents at my facility love to learn about the animals. We have a bearded dragon that sometimes visits, and they love her!”
Harold also pointed out, “Some clients have allergies or other restrictions and being able to offer them visits from other animals is important.”
To serve as a therapy pet, a pet must be fully vetted. Facilities will need copies of all current shot and bill of health records. Proof of certification is also required.
The certification process varies dependent on the group and sometimes the species. The most important criteria are that a pet is friendly and calm, will wear a harness and leash, and enjoys meeting new people and visiting new places.
While the therapy pets are important, Montague stressed that their human handlers are an essential part of the team. “They add so much value to people’s lives. Yes, the pets get loved on, but the conversations and bonds are also real. My residents like to get to know the handlers and chat about everything.”
During a recent visit to one of our regulars, a resident clasped my hand and told me she looked forward to our visits. The feeling was mutual. I squeezed her hand, and promised to return. On our next visit, maybe we could demonstrate a few of Rainy’s tricks
If you’d like to team with your pet to bring hope and happiness to others, please don’t hesitate to contact a pet therapy group or email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom. The need is great, and the rewards are immeasurable.