Pets As Therapy.

by Tenna Perry (Survivor Haven) 20/1/2002

Here is a beautiful article from Tenna Perry in the US, about how various pets were introduced to a Nursing home and all the happiness and joy they bought to everyone involved.

Several years ago, I worked for a veterinary clinic near Houston. It was a well-established practice with clients who had been coming in with their various pets for twenty or more years. Eventually, many of these clients began having difficulty getting their pets in for routine care. One of our

Furry friends can make a difference

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 clinic.

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 departed pets.

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


© One World One People, 24 January 2002
Contents may not be altered.