One of the most rewarding activities for you and your pet is”pet therapy” — taking your dog to a nursing home, assisted living, etc. for visits with the residents. Initially, my motivation for doing this was purely selfish — I hoped that if I brought animals to visit the elderly, if fate ever found me living in a nursing home, someone would return the favor! Good karma. 😉
At that time, I had two small dogs … Herbie a 15-pound Lhasa Apso and an 18-pound black Pekingese named Emma Sue. I had been contacted by the activities director at a Richmond nursing home inquiring whether I had dogs or clients with dogs who would be well suited to visit with the residents.
Any dog participating in therapy should be vaccinated, free of fleas, ticks, disease, well-groomed (including clipped nails) and have a predictable good nature and exemplary behavior. In addition, a good candidate for a pet therapy dog who visits long term care facilities will be mellow and unfazed by wheelchairs, strange noises and unfamiliar smells.
It is helpful if the dog has been through obedience training and also the AKC Good Canine Citizenship training program. Once you have all of this in order and have made arrangements with one of the long term care facilities in the Richmond area, you’re ready to take your dog for a trial visit.
Be sure to bring along a bowl so you can give your pet water. And don’t be surprised – even the sweetest dog in the world can be thrown by the strange environment and may make signs they’d like to leave. In this event, consider trying out a different type of pet therapy work for your dog (ie as a “dorm dog” who visits college students the week before final exams).
And no matter how strongly you want your dog to be a pet therapy hero, it might just be that he or she is totally happy lounging around the house with you. Whatever you do, don’t force your dog into a job they really don’t want to take on.
Fortunately, my dogs took to therapy in a nursing home like ducks to water! Herbie was the “main man” and Emma Sue did whatever he did. So in he marched with his stubby legs carrying him down the hall and into the rooms where residents who wanted to see the dogs were eagerly waiting.
Emma Sue was right behind him. Residents wanted them up on the bed with them or in their laps and both were happy to oblige. They instinctively seemed to know what each person needed!
Herbie was particularly tender and tolerant with stroke patients who usually have the use of only one arm. We would place him on their laps and they would hang onto him for dear life with the working arm. In many cases, Herbie would end up hanging off the lap with them holding only his neck!
He never complained, sensing that I would rescue him. Then back to work, visiting the next patient!
Typically, most rooms had two residents. Emma could be with one person and Herbie the other. People love animals and get so much pleasure from that happy, friendly face, wagging tail and the warmth of petting and rubbing a dog.
I never realized how much good the dogs were doing until the nursing home held their annual Volunteers Recognition banquet. Herbie and Emma Sue were special guests at the dinner. They dressed up in their sailor outfits and sat very politely by our sides at the table. The woman in charge fixed each of them a dinner plate which they thoroughly enjoyed.
After dinner, they recognized various volunteers. Then, they called up Herbie and Emma to receive their reward — big chewy bones! The speaker went into detail about how much good had been done by having the dogs come on a regular basis. They shared anecdotes about residents asking about the dogs and wanting to know if it was Friday yet (the day we scheduled our visits).
Perhaps the most impressive result was hearing that residents were talking — to each other and to staff members about the dogs and about their own pets from the past. In many cases, these people had not spoken before.
Herbie and Emma Sue are no longer with us. I am very fortunate to have had such outstanding dogs and will always be very proud of them. Although they left a huge hole in my heart, they left a world of good behind.
Think your dog would make a good pet therapy dog?
One of the best first steps is to find and attend a free information session offered around town. The libraries are a good place to contact since many of the introductory sessions are held at various branches throughout central Virginia. Here are two I found coming up this winter:
SATURDAY, FEB 21ST: Ginter Park Library, 1200 Westbrook Ave; 10:30-11:30am. Sprite’s HERO will have an information session for anyone interested in volunteering with Paws to R.E.A.D.
SATURDAY, MARCH 7th, 11am-1p; Midlothian Library, a FREE Therapy Animal Workshop for anyone interested in how to get started and what options are available for doing therapy dog work in the Richmond area. RSVP TO: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carole Tomas is the owner and president of Pet Pleasers, Inc. She is a graduate of Ohio University and a Charter Member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. When she began Pet Pleasers in 1985, business was conducted Old School via a landline, snail mail and an answering machine the size of a breadbox. No internet, email, text messaging, digital photos, social media or mobile phones! What has remained constant over three decades: Carole’s love of animals and an unwavering passion for professional pet sitting.