It’s Monday and 91 year old Sandra is up early and ready for the day. Today, according to her, is the best day of the week. She is expecting a visit from her Caregiver Canine®, Van. Van is a 5 year old rescued Greyhound and he is looking forward to visiting Sandra too. Van is a therapy dog and his job is to spread love and affection to people of all ages. He visits nursing homes, libraries and schools daily to spread the word about the awesome work that therapy dogs offer. I know though that visiting Sandra is his favorite job.
Sandra lives alone. She has no children but does have some family that live nearby who watch over her. Sandra had a Doberman for 14 years and he was the light of her life. She greatly misses having a dog to keep her company. That is where Van comes in. Van and his handler, mom Tracey, visit Sandra once a week through a program called Caregiver Canines®. Caregiver Canines® was started in 2009 as a program for Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, a nonprofit which provides free services to help homebound and lonely senior citizens in Ocean County, New Jersey. Van is able to visit Sandra in the comfort of her own home which is markedly different than most therapy dog programs. One on one visits, like these, allow the dog and client to form a special bond that doesn’t occur in institutional settings. Van can often be found napping at Sandra’s feet or kissing her cheek when she gives him a treat. Van knows when he pulls up to Sandra’s house right where he is going and who he is going to see. Van’s handler, Tracey, also has formed a close friendship with Sandra too. They talk all the time and Sandra has become family to Tracey. Therapy dogs benefit seniors from all walks of life in many different ways; let’s read more to see how.
How and Why Therapy Dogs Benefit Seniors
Therapy dogs are trained to provide emotional support and affection to people in need. Research has shown that visits with therapy dogs benefit seniors by providing physical and emotional support. Physical benefits include lowering of blood pressure and heart rate. Emotional benefits include a reduction in anxiety, depression and sense of isolation. Just the act of petting a dog can greatly improve a senior’s mood. Ninety percent of our clients have owned dogs in the past and they miss that daily interaction. Many say that there is no replacement for the unconditional love of a pet. Dogs can be a great icebreaker for shy individuals also. Bring a dog in the room and people automatically smile and want to talk to and pet the dog. Therapy dogs benefit seniors with Alzheimer’s as well and have been known to have amazing effects. Often a client with Alzheimer’s will be nonverbal but once you bring a dog close to them they respond with great clarity and enthusiasm.
What Makes a Good Therapy Dog?
All therapy dogs must be trained, tested and certified before being able to volunteer. Not every dog is suitable to be a therapy dog. It takes a calm, tolerant and well behaved dog to pass the test. They must enjoy human touch and social settings. Not only is the dog tested but the handler is tested as well. Dogs must be over one year of age and must have all their shots to be eligible. Many therapy dogs are older and have been rescued from local shelters. There are no restrictions to breed or size either. The most important thing to remember if you are considering therapy training is that you and your dog will often fall in love with the people you visit.
Caregiver Canines® is a unique program and is very successful at matching therapy dogs with seniors in need. Often time clients will call requesting a certain breed and if it can be accommodated we will do it. We have 30 therapy dogs on our roster and they range from tiny Japanese Chins all the way up to Dobermans. All of our dogs are out visiting at least one client. Many visit more than one. Our teams have been referred to as angels, blessings and the highlight of the week. Sandra has said that Caregiver Canines® and Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey have changed her life. Those are the words that keep us striving to provide our services to people in need.
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