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Wagging Tails Bring Joy To Seniors

Feb 3, 2008
What is dog therapy visiting? A team consists of a handler, and a happy, excited dog ready to go visiting. Although these special canine therapists are all shapes and sizes, pure breeds and those wonderful mutts, they share a single purpose: to bring happiness and comfort to the sick or disabled or lonely. These wonderful serviceanimals make every person they visit feel special. I know that my own dog Benny, a black lab, loved visiting. I mean his tail went into "propeller" mode as soon as we pulled into the parking lot of our "home".

It has been well documented that unconditional love given by therapy animals play an important role in reducing stress, boosting self-esteem, and decreasing recovery time. And, they help some of our older "friends" deal with lonliness and loss.

What is a therapy dog or therapy pet?

"Visiting Pets" "Therapy Dogs" "Therapy Pets" are just some of the names given to describe programs in which animals help people just by visiting with them.

Research has shown that heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Pets have an amazing positive effect on many people.

I read about the following study, and cannot help but to share it with you: A study of 92 patients hospitalized in coronary care units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets were more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not. The study found that only 6 percent of patients who owned pets died within one year compared with 28 percent of those who did not own pets

Petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure. When my husband was in therapy for many months, I always brought one of our dogs with me when visiting. All the patients loved my dogs.
Bringing a pet into a nursing home or hospital can boost peoples' moods and enhance their social interaction. I know this for sure. I visit with two dogs myself. Benny and Nikki.

A study conducted at UCLA found that dog owners required much less medical care for
stress-induced aches and pains than non-dog owners.

Add years to your life, own a pet! Or, visit with a pet, and give someone more
quality in their life.

What Type of Pet? Visiting pets are dogs and cats.

I belong to Therapeutic Paws of Canada with my dog. However, most other establishments are run the same way; basically offering the same types of services.

Dogs have to pass an obedience test before they are registered. This test is not hard, but deals basically with control, character and behavior. NOT like in obedience classes. A well behaved dog will pass. Also, of course, your dog must love people. If not, this program is NOT for your dog.

Do an internet search for establishments in your area. Then, get the information you need to see if this is for you. I love this work! And so does my Benny and Nikki.

At Therapeutic Paws of Canada they offer a volunteer based therapy dog and cat visitation program for senior's facilities such as retirement homes, nursing homes, Alzheimer day away centers, hospitals and where there is a need. The medical establishment has long recognized the significant benefits of a therapy dog and cat program. The petting and stroking of a pet helps to calm the most agitated resident and stimulates wonderful conversations about the pet they once owned. Recovery from surgery is quoted as being accelerated when there is continued contact with a pet. As a result of the many government fiscal cutbacks, the facility's staff is stretched to their limits. The positive impact of their programme on the day-to-day life of each senior throughout the community and beyond cannot be calculated.

Let me end on a very sad, but meaningful example.

I listen to a radio station that once a year has a big blitz to collect money for the Sick Children's Hospital. This year the radio station interviewed a lady with her therapy dog. This dog visits in the hospital. And one day one young child, about 5 years old was dying. That child requested in her last moments to have her therapy dog by her side. And of course, the dog did come, after cutting through some red tape to be allowed in the room. Therapy dogs make a difference; and you can let it happen too. "It's probably the most rewarding volunteer thing I can do."

This is a short summary of the procedure that I had to go through with Nikki. Most establishments are not much different. Again, the main point is to demonstrate behaviour and control. You will be able to obtain a copy of the requirements from your establishment.

The team is under observation from the time it enters the test area. A clean tidy appearance is expected from both the handler and dog, as they will be the ambassadors for the programme. A dog that relieves itself during the evaluation has failed. A dog displaying any signs of aggression to other dogs or humans (i.e. continuous barking, snarling, growling, lunging, showing teeth) has failed. A handler seen harshly correcting his dog is an automatic failure. A handler seen not following poop/scoop rule will fail.
During the evaluation and on all visits the dog must wear a flat buckle or snap collar and be on a 4' or 6' leather or nylon web leash. No promise collars, prong collar, halti or choke chain permitted. The dog should always be close to the handler. At no time should the dog be allowed to extend the leash to the fullest. Handlers may not use food to lure the dog during any of the categories.


While the Evaluator is standing in the center of the evaluation area (wearing white coat simulating a Doctor will be worn for this category) the team will approach quietly and introduce themselves to the Evaluator. The dog must not jump on Evaluator but remain quiet (either standing or sitting) while the handler and Evaluator exchange a few pleasantries.


The Evaluator will demonstrate a specific course for the team to walk.


The team moves about politely among the moving pedestrian traffic with the dog on a short leash. The handler may talk to his dog to encourage the dog to stay close and move smartly.


With the dog in a standing or sitting position beside the handler the Evaluator or Asst. Evaluator will approach and ask, "May I pet your dog"? The Evaluator will bend over the dog to pet it (lightly tapping the head and hip area) and then walk around the team and return to the front.


The dog should be easily calmed by the handler after a short play or praise period. The handler may use verbal praise, petting, playing with a toy and/or favourite trick in the allotted time frame and then calm the dog upon a signal from the Evaluator or Asst. Evaluator.


A test area of not less than eight (8) feet square in size will be marked out with four numbers. Four handlers will approach a predetermined number with their dog on a short lead and have the dog sit on the handler's left side.


The team will walk around inside the circle with the dog closest to the crowd. The people will touch and stroke the dog if the dog stops to visit. The person holding the fuzzy toy must not tease or tempt the dog to take the toy.


Sitting in a wheelchair the Evaluator will approach the sitting dog and handler from behind. When approaching the team the Evaluator will use an excited manner and ask to pet the dog.

Congratulate the successful teams and invite the Team Leader to address the group and distribute the appropriate forms.
About the Author
Ruth's passions are people and pet health. She is very active with dog
therapy visiting. Visit her blog, href="http://www.happypetstop.com/blog">http://www.happypetstop.com/bog
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