Keesha was a 50-pound Keeshond (Kayz-hawnd), with flowing silver and black fur. No matter where this good-natured pooch traveled, people would ask to stroke his thick silky coat and gaze at his striking good looks. Those who saw him continually offered compliments concerning his captivating appearance as well as his delightful temperament.
Despite his glamour, Keesha had a very special mission in life and he knew it. You see Keesha was a trained pet therapy canine, who lived, loved, and waited to visit senior adults in Miami nursing homes and assisted living facilities. At least two times per week, this former Dutch Barge Dog would adorn his special pet therapy scarf, which identified him as a genuine canine counselor, and prepare to visit his elderly friends. As soon as his scarf was removed from the shelf, he knew he was going to perform his special assignment: Bringing welcomed diversion to those who touched him and joy to the lives that he touched.
Few assisted living facilities and no skilled nursing facilities allow residents to retain pets. Hence, the occasion to spend time with a visiting therapy dog often elicits a flood of favorable memories to those who owned family pets in earlier years. Physicians have come to realize the psychological benefits in allowing geriatric patients to connect with non-judgmental, loving pets, if even for a short time.
Research has proven that interacting with animals on a regular basis, holds critical and psychological benefits, the effects of which are unquestionably favorable, including the reduction of depression and anxiety, lowering of blood pressure, and fostering an enhanced feeling of well-being. This can be especially critical for older adults, who sometimes get socially isolated or struggle with finding a sense of purpose.
Listed on the Miami Humane Society’s website, the description of their pet therapy program is as follows: “The Pet Therapy Program brings the uniquely healing human/animal bond to residents and patients of healthcare facilities, rehabilitation centers, children’s hospitals and senior citizen homes throughout Miami. The success of this program is attributed to dedicated volunteers who donate their time to visiting with the residents of care facilities, hoping to bring a smile to someone’s face with the help of something that we all cherish-the companionship of animals”.
It is common for one spouse to outlive the other. In a recent Time Magazine article, Tom Perls, founder of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, states that, “Across the industrialized world, women still live 5 to 10 years longer than men. Among people over 100 years, 85% are women”.
As a result, pet interactions can provide excellent social support, stress relief and other health benefit, perhaps more than a critical partner. The opportunity to connect with a sentient being brings forth an abundance of blissful recall, reminiscent of a time when mortality was not in the fore of thought.
Kenneth W. Hallcom, Ph.D