His blue eyes lit up as he gazed at my dog. The twinkle in them was the first thing I noticed, followed by his friendly smile as my dog approached his chair. Memories seemed to flood back to his brain as we spoke about how he once had a dog and how he just loved him. He gently pet Cap, laughing and commenting on the softness of his fur and the attractiveness of his eyes. Cap is a pet visitation therapy dog. He visits elder-care homes, schools and other organizations that can benefit from the amazing bond between humans and animals. Quite frequently he visits those affected by some form of dementia.
Dementia is a growing epidemic. By 2050 it is estimated that over 135 million people will have some form of dementia (http://www.mba-healthcare-management.com/dementia/) Dementia is a disorder of the mental processes and can be related to memory loss, personality changes and impaired reasoning. There are many studies that suggest that exercise, mental stimulation, vitamins and simple stress reduction can all decrease your risk of early dementia. Unhealthy lifestyles tend to be the leading factor that increases the risks for all of us. We know what to do. Eat less, move more, grow in your heart and mind and take your vitamins! Once the disease has a hold of you it won’t let go.
She was resting on top of her bed but welcomed us into her room. A fake flower adorned her hair and pictures of yesterday decorated her walls. Cap immediately figured out that her bedspread was very soft, a velvet-like texture, and jumped up to lie down beside her. His eyes started to droop as he realized that THIS was a human he could bond with through napping! She just sat there and told me that the secret to living a long life was to NOT get married. Who knew that we would discover the fountain of youth in Virginia! She chuckled lightly as I considered this little secret and just decided to rest with contentment as Cap closed his eyes. Her room was Cap’s favorite room.
I’ve learned that for some people, the unconditional love of a dog is healing and therapeutic. These pet therapy dogs bring out the foundational remnants of kindness, humor, and love that still reside in those afflicted by dementia. The visits break up old routines and encourage an interest and interaction that would ordinarily be difficult to elicit. It’s not for all patients and there is careful consideration and permissions put in place for those uncomfortable with a pet visit. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences for not only myself but for my dog. He loves to go for a car ride and enjoys meeting new people. He does get very tired after working so hard but he is slowly getting used to the job. Pet visitation therapy dogs are used in elder care homes, schools and other organizations that want to benefit those struggling with dementia, anxiety or depression.
Pet therapy is not only for those with dementia or those who are elderly and in nursing homes. Younger children and teens with learning disabilities, social anxiety and depression also benefit from these healing visits.
The peer counseling group at the high school was getting ready for winter break. They decided that the day before break they would invite pet visitation therapy dogs to visit the school and take pictures with the students. Cap and two of his doggy friends put on their best bows, winter vests and Santa hats and visited the high school for a three hour photo shoot. The result was a joyous three hour extravaganza that raised the spirits of those who were not be looking forward to being home for two weeks and those who simply loved taking photos with the dogs. All dogs were tuckered out and over fed with treats by the end of the day!
There is a bond of love between all living things and the nature that surrounds us. Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods only to find that you feel just a little better about your day? Have you every played with a kitten or puppy and experienced a joy or calmness in your heart afterwards? The world around us is God’s gift to us.
Years ago I remember an old native American Indian tale about man and animals. I will probably get this wrong but it goes something like this. God was separating man from the animals. He put man on one side and all animals on the other side. He then caused a wide chasm to start to open up between the two sides. At the very last moment “dog” jumped across to stand with man.
I don’t know what’s next for Cap and I when it comes to pet visitation therapy. He turned five this year and I know that my days with him have a time limit. His sister Mocha has not yet been cleared for pet therapy because I suspect her tendency to jump high and lick people head to foot would cause her to fail her assessments. For now she cuddles next to him after a long day and after asking him where he’s been and why he smells like perfumes, numerous people and other dogs. The interrogation is quite thorough! I’m hoping that Cap and I will be able to expand into the school system through our organization and help those children who struggle every single day with anxiety and depression. I also hope to expand our presence in Loudoun County.
Today, at this moment, we will share our love with one person at a time. It is enough to pursue conversations about love, acceptance and my dog. Conversations that say “we see you,” and it is OK to be who you are today. Conversations that say we are here because of love. Conversations of grace. We get more from the people we visit than they could possibly imagine.
Gifts of wisdom, life and dignity.