ARTICLES / General / Ask any Senior... How is a Dog like a Light Bulb? /
Share This Article
Ask any Senior... How is a Dog like a Light Bulb?
By Joanna R. Leefer, MBA, GSC
Most pet lovers already know the
answer. He lights up the room with his love. Senior
care facilities think this way as well. Many nursing
homes, assisted living residences, and senior
centers offer visiting pet programs that allow
residents to interact with animals. The results
often turn into a love fest!
Vivian Stadel, a geriatric care manager and Brooklyn
resident, has participated in the pet therapy
program since 2008. Every month, she and her therapy
dog, Einstein, visit the Norwegian Christian Nursing
Home and Health Center in Brooklyn. For every visit,
Einstein arrives in his official therapy vest and
starts his tour of duty. First, he visits the
administratorís office, then each of the three
resident floors, stopping in every room for a short
personal visit. The tour concludes in the activity
lounge where he says his final farewell to the
Ms. Stadel tells heartwarming stories of residents
putting out their arms to welcome Einstein as he
runs to greet them with licks, tail wags and the
mutual gazes into each otherís eyes. Vivian admits
that these visits benefit all involved. The
residents are invigorated, Einstein loves all the
attention, the staff is happy, and Vivian forgets
all the daily worries such as bills, household and
Tears come to her eyes as she remembers Einsteinís
interaction with one of his favorite residents. As
soon as Einstein sees the wheelchair bound
gentleman, he races over and positions himself right
next to his wheelchair for a hardy back scratch.
Many other Brooklyn Senior Facilities have similar
programs. The Prospect Park Residence at One
Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, NY, has a visiting
dog program through the Good Dog Foundation. Every
week, a therapy dog visits the Essentia floor, a
floor reserved for residents with special needs.
Menorah Nursing Home in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn has
a visiting dog, Shadow, and Sunrise Senior Living at
Sheepshead Bay has a pet dog in residence.
Nursing homes were one of the first settings to
graciously open their doors to the concept of pet
visits. Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a New
Jersey founded organization, introduced one of the
first visiting pet programs nearly 30 years ago.
Such programs have been expanded to other facilities
including hospitals, psychiatric wards and schools
for autistic children.
The beneficial impact of pets and people has been
documented for centuries. There is substantial
evidence that the relationship between pets and
people extends beyond simple companionship. The
interaction can be physical, emotional and mental.
An animal does not judge a person on his looks or
disabilities, but responds totally to the
Visiting pets often get seniors to move more than
they normally would, which increases their mobility.
Other studies document that stress levels and blood
pressure are reduced after playing with a pet.
This proves true when a visiting pet walks into a
room full of seniors. Many senior homes, hospitals,
nursing homes and assisted living residents offer
therapy dog programs to allow their inhabitants to
share the joy of visiting with a pet. It often
sparks memories and starts conversations about their
own pets and stories from their earlier years.
The visiting pet program is not limited to dogs. It
can include cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, parrots,
domesticated rats and in some parts of the country,
llamas, horses, goats, donkeys, pigs and chickens.
Nancy George-Michalson, Therapy Animal Program
Coordinator for Pet Partners, a nation-wide animal
organization, mentioned that in New Jersey they have
a potbelly pig named Sherman registered in the
program. Sherman carries a basket balanced on his
nose as he makes the rounds. Now, that brings a lot
Not every animal is eligible for the visiting pet
program. First, they must have the proper
temperament. They must be friendly and patient,
respond to commands, and not be distracted by loud
noises. The pet must have acurrent rabies
vaccination and license, and must be free of ticks
The handler must also go through extensive training.
They must follow a certain protocol, be courteous,
and respect the privacy of patients. The final exam
can often include simulating a chaotic environment
similar to one that might occur in a nursing home.
Both the pet and the handler are tested. The
participants must enter into a room, ignore the
stimulus, and remain calm. They are to ignore any
other pet that is in the room. Only calm animals and
handlers will receive certification.
If you are interested in becoming certified and
providing pet therapy in a facility near you, there
are several agencies that offer training a
credentialing throughout the United States and
Canada. Each program has slightly different
certification requirements. For instance, Pet
Partners (formerly called the Delta Society)
requires recertification every two years.
To get a pet therapy program started in your
facility, check the Yellow Pages or go online to
find providers in your area. You could also check
other senior facilities and get names of pet therapy
providers from them. One advantage of talking to
other facilities is first hand references and
recommendations. It may take a little work, but the
smiles and happy faces will make it all worth it
when you light up your facility!
Joanna Leefer is a senior care advisor and founder
of ElderCareGiving, an agency that advises families
on how to get the best care for their frail loved
ones. Find out more at www.joannaleefer.com.
Her book, Almost Like Home: A Family Guide to
Navigating the Nursing Home Maze, will be available
in the fall of 2013.
Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter