The Benefits of Therapy Dogs

Therapy dog teams visit people of all ages in all types of care facilities including Memory Support units, more commonly known as Alzheimer’s units. One Alzheimer’s facility we recently visited has three separate “Neighborhoods.” Each Neighborhood houses residents during the one of the three stages of Alzheimer’s and are locked to make sure that they don’t wander off.

Bo and I, along with Jo and Rudy the greyhound, recently visited one of these facilities. Many times, the residents of the stage 1 Neighborhood aren’t told that they are in an Alzheimer’s facility. The staff member taking us around mentioned that there was a woman in the stage 1 Neighborhood that we should visit.

Clothed in pajamas, the woman walked out into the common area where we were. She was thrilled to see Bo and Rudy and said that she used to have a special dog growing up. I asked her if she remembered its name and breed. She proceeded to tell us all about her Wire Haired Terrier named Woo Woo and the happy memories she had of him. Her parents had gotten the dog when they felt she was old enough to take on the responsibility. She misses having her own dog, but knows that the facility isn’t a good place for her to have one now. Having the dogs visit her today was like getting a present.

After leaving the unit, the staff member told us that if anyone asks her about Woo Woo that she isn’t able to tell them anything about him. He also said that seeing the way she was able to tell us about Woo Woo showed him how big of an impact therapy dogs has on the residents.

Our therapy dog team is usually thanked by the residents and patients we’re visiting, or their families or a staff member. We but don’t usually hear it from the facilities — to let us know how that they understand the purpose of therapy dogs and that our services are appreciated. There are a handful of facilities that host wonderful dinners during Volunteer Appreciation week, but we don’t expect anything other than smiles on faces and lots of great petting for the dogs.

So, if you see a therapy dog when visiting any facility, please go up and ask to pet the dog. It’s the best payment they can receive. And don’t hesitate to tell a story to the handler about your dog or something your friend or family member in the facility has you about their visit with the therapy dog. The memory of great experiences is what keeps us and the dogs going back for more!

Editor’s Note: A great way to encourage interaction with a hard-working therapy dog (with the owner’s permission) is to bring along a delicious bag of dog treats. They deserve to be rewarded with Pur Luv! We know Bo loves these tasty treats! Your dog will, too. 

-Photo Credit: From flickr by seanmfreez

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