Did you know that pet visits often spark good memories of a person's own pets? Dogs often can reach people and children who have withdrawn from the world. It's been suggested by science that petting a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and stress, and promote healing.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Cayman's First Therapy Dog Visit
When you first walk in, you enter a large semi-formal looking living area. Seated on the sofas were some of the residents. Next to the sofas, there was about three residents in wheelchairs. Each of the PAWS Ministry members walked there dogs around the living area, stopping at each resident and letting them stroke the dog while the handler introduced them. Some of the residents were very quiet and just pet the dogs gently while others went on and on about how beautiful they all were. Cayman, who must have been feeling a bit overwhelmed, sat in a corner observing all that was going on around us. Our leader said this was okay since it was, after all, his first visit. After a few minutes he must have decided that getting attention was better than watching all the others get it, so he got up and let me lead him around the residents as well.
One very boisterous woman kept shouting "God Bless You! They are all so beautiful!" over and over as she shuffled from dog to dog. Cayman, by this time, had laid down, probably worn out from his tumbling with Taco. The boisterous woman had made her way over to where we were and peered down at Cayman and laughed "Look at the dopey kid!". I kinda felt embarrassed since she was calling my dog "dopey" like he was stupid or something but quickly laughed it off. He did look silly all passed out on the floor!
After visiting in the common room, we started down the halls of the resident's bedrooms. The PAWS Ministry had taken photos with the patients, with permission, prior to this visit and were handing them out with holiday greeting cards. Our leader, armed with the cards, begun knocking on the resident's bedroom doors and when they answered, they were given their cards and a visit from one of the therapy dogs, if they wanted.
I had heard that many times, the therapy dog chooses the patient that they instinctively know needs them the most and some will paw at their closed door or pull their handler into that particular patients room. I think Cayman did this! As we were walking past some rooms, Cayman pulled me into a dim-lit room where one woman was sitting in a wheelchair and another was sitting in a recliner, her hands on either side of her face. Cayman visited with the woman in the wheelchair first. She exclaimed how soft he was and how beautiful he was and asked me if he was a boy or girl and what his name was. We chatted briefly while she petting him and then one of the experienced PAWS Ministry members that I had been paired with appeared in the door. I told her that Cayman wanted to visit here when she laughed and said "I wondered where you two went".
As the woman in the wheelchair begun petting her dog, a chihuahua/Jack Russell terrier mix dressed in a Santa costume; I walked Cayman over to the woman in the chair. She still had her hands at her face and said "I don't like dogs. I got bitten by one." I had read that this was common so I cheerfully said, "Oh that's alright, I'll stand over here then so you can still look at him." I stood a short distance away from her as I also read that many times people will change their minds when they see how friendly the dogs are or see how the other residents are with them, like dogs and kids, they don't want to be left out of the fun. So I stood close enough that if she changed her mind, I was still close enough to go back to her chair with Cayman.
After our visit there, we joined the rest of the group in the Alzehemiers unit. This was a seperate living area closed off my door with key code combination locks on them to prevent the residents from leaving that area. We joined the group in another living area, this one had more sofas and chairs and a TV and a Christmas tree. There was an obvious difference from the residence in the nursing home area and here in the Alzehimers unit. The residences here were muttering to themselves, slumped over in their chairs sleeping,or staring off at nothing. These were the residences that the PAWS members had to lift there hands up and place them on the dogs for them to snap back into reality and begin petting the dogs and talking. I chose to sit next to an African American woman with a very pretty kiwi green bathroom on.
I introduced myself and Cayman and she begun petting him. Her name was Wilma. She told me how much she loved animals, especcially horses. She told me a story of when she was little how her daddy's horse had a colt and he let her and her brothers and sister raise that little colt they named Pat since he was born on St Patricks Day. She went on to tell me how smart he was and how she used to love riding. You could see her eyes light up in the memory of that horse, maybe is one of the few clear memories of her childhood she still had. Her mood changed when she said how she isn't as active as she used to be. She said "My mind is still sharp, I used to be a really active lady. But there is nothing to do here. Nothing to do but cry."
I really didn't know what to say at this. "Well, that's why we come here. I visit you all." She smiled and patted Cayman and said "There is only one thing wrong with your visits..." I was afraid of what she might say. "They are never enough. Two times a day would still not be enough." I knew what she meant. PAWS Ministry typically visits the first Saturday of the month only although they have mentioned that with approval from the center's coordinator, we could make more frequent trips if we wanted to. What was even more sad was when she went on to tell me how she used to play the piano and her church's organ every Sunday, but like so many things- if you don't use it, you lose it. She had forgotten how to play. I decided if I ever got a chance to adopt a resident, I would have to pick Wilma and get her one of those little battery operated keyboards. I think she would have liked that.
We actually went over our scheduled time for our visitation, all of us were so involved with the residences. It was truly a wonderful experience. My team leader said Cayman did really well and I was very grateful that this group existed and was able to accept Cayman as a therapy dog, even at his young age. I really look forward to our next visit which will be the first Saturday in January. From what I understand, new members are required to participate in two group visits, this being the first, so the leaders can evaluate how the handler/dog duo works with the residents. After that we are free to make as many visits as we would like. I know I will definitely try to come on some Sundays as well and stop in to see Wilma.