doctors began making house calls for those who
were homebound and when one finally went into a nursing home, he
took the dog into his own home. On his off days, he would often
take this dog to visit its old mistress. During these visits he
found other human patients who wanted to pet or hold the dog and
it was at that time he started a program for the employees of the
The program was simple, certain days of each month were set
up for nursing home visitation and any employee who wanted to participate,
was allowed to do so while still on company time.
The nursing home we visited wasn't what you would call "upscale"
and most of the patients were there on their social security benefits
with no family to help defray the cost. It was by no means the cleanest
or nicest of places. At the same time, they didn't have stiff rules
about the visitation of pets to their residents and while we set
times, appointments were never necessary.
Many states have strict rules about animals in hospital/nursing
home environments. For all I know, Texas is now one of them. Back
then though, all we had to do was make sure the pet was clean, had
their nails clipped and filed as short as possible and that they
had only the friendliest of temperaments.
"Spock" was a rabbit owned by a fellow Star Trek fan. He was pitch
black with only the very tips of his toes being white. He had the
softest fur imaginable and would allow anyone to hold him, never
offering to claw. Spock would be let loose in the hallway and off
he would go hopping until he came to a door. At each doorway, he
would pause and if he heard an, "Oh look" or some other encouraging
sign, he would wait for his owner to come pick him up and take him
in for a visit.
Another of our visitation pets was a cat that must have topped twenty
pounds. It was a shorthaired calico and I can't remember her name.
I do remember she was too fat and lazy to run or get excited but
she had a purr like a revved up Harley.
The pet I took was a big blue merle collie named Guinea. She
was a show dog who loved all people. Guinea knew when someone would
say she was pretty and always had to acknowledge a compliment. She
would lift her upper lip to smile, begin "talking back" to the person
and just the tip of her tail would begin to wag. If she received
even more encouragement, the tail would begin to beat a steady tattoo
until it was wagging the dog, not the other way around.
Without being trained, she could tell which were the really
frail patients. For these, she knew they couldn't handle much and
she would just go up to the bed or chair, put that long, wedged
nose under their hand and keep it there. She never got bored and
would stay there for as long as the person wanted company.
Now there have been all kinds of studies that tell about the
benefits to an elderly person who has a pet. I don't know that we
did any long term good, but for the time we were there, those people
shined. They would be sitting in their chairs or lying in bed staring
of into space with this empty, defeated look on their face and then
one of the pets would come in and they would smile, often get up
out of the bed and become animated for a while. So often these pets
were the only visitors that the patients ever had. For others, they
were pleasant reminders of earlier, happier times and their own
Today there are programs across the nation to certify dogs as
actual therapy dogs. These programs are excellent ideas but as yet,
there are not only too few programs, there are too few owners/handlers
willing to do volunteer work with the elderly, disabled or handicapped.
More information can be found at:
Therapy Dogs International: http://www.tdi-dog.org/
Service and Therapy Dogs: http://www.cofc.edu/~huntc/service.html
Tenna Perry is a mother of three who has been happily married for
14 years. She has written extensively on subjects such as abuse,
pet care and history. She is the founder/owner of Survivor
Haven which helps survivors of child physical, emotional
and sexual abuse as well as domestic abuse and rape to come together.
Survivor Haven can be found at http://angelfire.com/tx4/survivorhaven/index.html
Courtesy of Tenna Perry