Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spread the Love - Pet Therapy Program Benefits

I have several friends who live in residential adult care homes here in Tucson because they are too ill to live alone anymore but they do not require full-time care yet. So they have a nice room or share one with someone, and the environment is very much like a home. They are allowed to have dogs or cats but must be able to take care of them. For those who are not able to have their own pets anymore, I have learned they desperately want others to bring their pets in to visit.
My friends cannot care for a dog or cat anymore and they know I have a cat, so they ask me often if I can bring Chester in to see them. They always look so sad when they speak of the pets they used to be able to love and care for. Which means, I feel extra bad when I have to explain that Chester does not have the temperament to go visiting others since he is too shy and skittish and does not like to sit in laps or be held. I often wish I had another kitty who was more mellow and laid-back so that I could take my pet to visit my friends, but Chester is a one-person-cat and so for now things will remain as they are.
Anyway, I have learned over the years that many shelters have all-important pet therapy programs in place, but some do not. It’s becoming more popular as more awareness has developed over how important this particular form of therapy is for so many who are sick or disabled and cannot have their own pets anymore.
Many years ago, I took my cat, Chelsea, to see residents of a nursing home where my grandmother and her best friend lived, and they enjoyed it so much. She was not part of an official pet therapy program, but I was allowed to let Chelsea visit with others if they wanted to see her when I did take her in to see my loved ones. It brought such joy to those older ones. Their faces just lit up with delight at seeing a furry critter. It’s so obvious we humans were especially designed to interact with and relate to companion animals of all sorts. A real gift and privilege.
Another elderly friend was in a rehab unit of a local nursing home and there is a resident cat there who visits all the residents when they want her to. It was so fun to see this cat go to various rooms and jump up on the beds and let the different ones pet her, as well as just wander around and do her own kitty things. I saw the faces of many residents change so drastically, from sadness and despair to joy and happiness, when they had the chance to visit with the resident cat. Even if for only a few minutes, it seemed to make such a difference in their difficult lives.
I’ve learned lately that one of my local shelters has a pet-therapy program; the others do not. I am not able to participate at this point in time due to my own physical limitations, but I have urged some of my friends to sign up. And I urge others who are able to make room for this in their lives if at all possible. You will not be sorry!
So, if your local shelters have a pet therapy program in place, why not  consider joining in if you have a pet that would be suitable for such a thing. If your shelters do not have a program, think about at least volunteering to take your own well-behaved and gentle pet in once in a while to visit elderly ones who can no longer enjoy life on their own with their own pets, if the facilities near you allow this. 
I speak from experience that having to give up so many things one loves is very hard, whether it’s due to illness or injury, and many have told me giving up their pets was one of the worst things they went through as their health worsened. I am sure most of us can relate since we love our pets so much and are grateful for the important role they play in our lives.
Here are some online resources for finding more info about this valuable service. With a little digging, you will find a lot more info, I’m sure:
American Humane Association, Pet Assisted Therapy
Therapy Dogs International

Submitted by:..............................................Debra Holder - Owner of a special needs cat who is quite grumpy but still very lovable, Chester, (see the avatar in her online studio at, Debra specializes in making safety collars for cats because of her love of sewing and cats that she is able to combine in one creative activity. She has always had pets of various kinds but especially enjoys small dogs and all kinds of kitties and is thankful for the unconditional love pets give to their human friends.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Thanks for writing about pet therapy. It would be wonderful if all nursing homes and assisted living places allowed pets to come visit, or better still, if there was one that lived there all the time to go visit those who wanted it to stop by.