Therapy Dogs Helping Seniors Live Longer

By: Stephanie Satchell Email
By: Stephanie Satchell Email

May 10, 2012

Mary Lee Morris is a big Virginia Cavaliers fans and a lover of dogs. And she’s just one of many residents of RoseWood Village in Albemarle County who enjoys weekly visits from Remy.

“I think it brightens your day. I mean, you have something lively going on and coming in.”

Home Instead Senior Care teams up with facilities like RoseWood Village to encourage Pet Therapy. Caregivers take dogs to visit senior citizens several times a week.

“The whole aspect of what I see is the one-on-one between the residents or the patient and the dog,” says Christine Shaw, a community service representative at Home Instead. “They’re petting and stroking and their stress relief is happening in front of my eyes. I can see their smile go from ear to ear; it’s almost a tangible view of their stress level being eliminated.”

RoseWood Village, which currently has four dogs that come in for visits, is one of only a few senior assisted living facilities in the Charlottesville area that allows pets, an amenity executive director Judi Cleary doesn’t think any senior center should exclude.

“One of the great things about pets is it’s an opportunity to give and get affection. As we age, we lose people in our lives and we start receiving a lot of physical care, but we don’t get much of an opportunity to give affection,” she explained. “So a pet visiting the seniors is a great opportunity for that to happen.”

And recent studies show Pet Therapy is catching on.

“Studies show that people who have a pet live longer,” Cleary says. “Their stress levels go down just from petting a dog or cat. Studies prove that pets are good for people.”

Not only are the doggie visitors making a difference for seniors, many elderly residents at RoseWood Village are also benefiting from having their own live-in pets. For example, Rena Bell says she’s in pretty good health, but having her dog, Oliver, around keeps her active.

“Very, very active,” says Bell, who has lived at Rosewood for two years. “Besides, it causes me to walk as much as my doctor wants me to walk because I have to walk Oliver.”

And when it comes to physical activity, Cleary says these pooches help their owners do more than just walk. “Sometimes it’s even a matter of getting up to feed the dog or changing its water or getting your cat his play toys. Any type of added activity is going to be great for the residents,” she explains.

Unlike Pet Assisted Therapy, where a service dog helps a person with certain tasks, this form of therapy takes much less training. It means almost any dog can be a pet therapist.

“You really want to have a calm dog. You want to have a dog that’s accustomed to various people. You want to have a dog that obeys your commands and really enjoys people,” says Shaw. “So, I think in general all dogs have the opportunity.”

So with every doggy handshake and affectionate touch, these pets are boosting the moods and brightening the days of their elderly friends.

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