Pet Therapy – Community Care

Lily was dressed in her volunteer uniform, ready to enhance the lives of the elderly and infirm.  This would be her first-day visiting difficult lives in assisted living homes, care centers and Alzheimer’s units around Scottsdale.  Lily’s purpose on this mission would be to bring love, conversation, hugs, and company to the lonely.  She was excited about the opportunity to give back to the community and volunteer for something so important.  One thing that may surprise you though, Lily is a dog.  


Lily is my sweet, loving, soft natured dog.  Her demeanor was perfect, to sit quietly and bring comfort to the downtrodden in our community.  With one phone call to Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, Lily and I were on the calendar to attend an initial meeting.  I completed the detailed application, for both of us, talked at length on the phone in an interview-style with the coordinators, and gathered together Lily’s Vet records to submit.  After a background check, initial interview, paperwork, registration fees paid, we had made it to the next step.  Orientation, then observation, then guidance at a registered facility.  We were on our way.  Lily and I were official volunteers for Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale.  Our two-man team, Lily and I, were assigned to start at one particular Assisted Living Home, then, additional community needs would present themselves from there.  Our first visit to The Gardens Assisted Living Home also required volunteer paperwork and center authorization as well.  Of coarse Lily passed with flying colors.


My Pet Therapy routine with Lily has become regular meaningful visits to as many residents and patients as we could see each trip.  With each visit, I began to realize this was a win-win.  Lily would see me come downstairs in my red Pets on Wheels uniform shirt.  She knew!  She knew we were about to adventure out and get lots of attention and soft petting from our new friends.  Lily would stand on hind legs waving her front paws in the air.  Bark, bark, bark!  Telling me how excited she was to go.  As the car pulled up and pulled into a visitor spot, more excitement and barking.  “Let’s go!” Lily was saying.  “Let’s see my new friends.”  Running into the facility front door dragging me behind.  Tonge out, a smile on, enthusiasm lit!  This is a win-win.  Not only does Lily bring smiles to the elderly, but the aged brought smiles to Lily.


Lily is a 10-year-old, 9 pound, female, pure breed Maltese dog.  A perfect size to sit on a lap, cozy up on a hospital bed, and stare lovingly into a patient’s eyes from their lap in a wheelchair.  With the Maltese breed of dogs having hair, not fur, she doesn’t shed and is considered hypoallergenic.  Her hair is soft like cotton and lovely to touch.  This touch bringing therapy in and of itself.  Touch therapy creates a therapeutic and relaxing effect.  Touch therapy not only promotes healing and reduces pain and anxiety, but also balances energy.  The comfort and relief the elderly felt as they stroked Lily’s fur is measurable.  Virginia, nearing 100 years of age, resides at The Gardens Assisted Living Home.  She suffers from depression.  Not only is Virginia handicapped and aged, but bedridden.  Staring at four walls for years, brought her mental state low.  It is amazing, as Lily entered the room each visit, Virginia’s demeanor drastically changed.  Virginia is all smiles, full of conversation, and the touch therapy is brightening her spirits.  The difference over time has become remarkable.  The energy-based touching of Lily facilitated physical, emotional, mental, and physical health increases in Virginia.  This can be noticed in all the patients at each assisted living home we visit.  Lily has a way of affecting each elderly person’s physical, mental, emotional and general health in a positive direction.


As a side act to Lily, am I.  An additional benefit to the pet therapy, each interaction also brings the human exchange.  For the lonely to have a conversation from someone outside the facility is huge.  Many adult children admit their aged parents into assisted living homes where they will have the day to day care they need.  The assisted living home is a safe environment with age-appropriate activities to bring some as-semblance of lifestyle they might not have at home by themselves.  The downside may be that these adult children have their own busy lives or may live quite a distance to allow for regular visits.  So in reality, Lily and I may be that elderly person’s only visitor that week.  For an assisted living home resident to be able to have an outside source of communication is incredibly powerful.  Talking about their past, their current life, and their loved ones.  Pictures adorned many of their rooms of relatives.  Photos of weddings they missed in person but were able to connect to from a photo.  Great-grandchildren who’s birthday parties they weren’t able to attend, but felt a part of, in a way, through a photograph.  Human communication added to bringing those situations alive.  Alongside the physiological and psychological benefits of pet therapy comes human conversation and also reliving memories of the pets they once owned.  


With the patient-led conversation of pets they once owned brought forth a therapeutic environment based on the pre-existing human-animal bond they once had.  There is a bond that humans have with a pet or animal that is not like any human relationship.  The connection is deep and rewarding.  Interacting with Lily, the elderly and in-firmed cross over from many physical and mental issues they may be experiencing.  Pet therapy within the community is a tremendous way to give back to those in need.  Helping someone recover or cope with a mental disorder or health problem via animal-assisted therapy brings quantifiable recovery benefits.  


The involvement of this type can be researched in your local community.  Whether you know an elderly person or facility whom you think might benefit.  Or, you have a pet that you think may be a great visiting therapy dog candidate.  Here are a few of many organizations to contact and get involved with.  Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Pet Partners, AKC Recognized Therapy Dogs, Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, Paws for People, Dog Play, etc…


By Darlene Quinn