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The Importance of Therapy Dogs at Senior Care Communities
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on January 8th, 2013

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The Importance of Therapy Dogs at Senior Care Communities

assisted living  |  Retirement Community  |  60-day stay trial  |  senior care communities  |  therapy dogs  |  Aging & Caregiving

Therapy DogTherapy dogs provide affection and comfort to those around them. May it be a hospital, retirement home, assisted living community or other senior care community these dogs create an overwhelmingly positive feeling for those around them. In senior care communities therapy dogs can increase the feeling of bonding and happiness while lowering stress levels. These dogs may greet those in the community, accompany residents during their daily routines (such as reading the paper) or may just want to engage in play with residents around with their own dog toys in a nice game of tug-of-war or catch.

We at United Methodist Homes have experienced first hand the many benefits of having a therapy dog at our community. The story of our beautiful black lab rescue, Zoe, follows.

In the spring of 2005 the residents of Crosby Commons at Wesley Village Assisted Living Community decided they wanted a community dog. We starting looking in the local pounds but could not find a dog to fit the bill.  Then we went online and found a two-year-old black lab mix through “Labs for Rescue”.  The dog we were interested in was described as “quiet, friendly and eager to please”.   When we asked about meeting the dog, we were told that she was at a pound in New Orleans; so meeting her in advance of adopting her would not be possible.  Bringing a dog we had not met into an assisted living environment did not make much sense to us, so we declined the adoption.  “Labs for Rescue”, however, did not give up on us.  They were so convinced that this particular lab mix would make a wonderful community dog that they encouraged us to become a foster family and promised they would find the dog another permanent home if things did not work out. We decided to give it a try.

On a warm summer day in June, Zoe came North on a truck with 25 other dogs from New Orleans.  We picked her up in a commuter parking lot and fell in love immediately.  However, it was evident that Zoe needed some training.  She was full of energy and we needed to make sure she would not jump on our assisted living residents or go into our Dining Room and beg for food while people ate.  We thought this would be a daunting task, but it was not.  Being such a smart dog and a quick learner, Zoe understood that she was not allowed in our Dining Room or Café.  But that doesn’t stop her from hanging out right at the threshold of the Dining Room hoping a resident will bring her a special treat!  She can pretty much count on a piece of bacon or sausage every morning.

Zoe has been with us for 7 years now and she has never once jumped on a resident or a child.  She seems to naturally know to be gentler with youngsters and seniors.  Zoe has made many special friends over the years and brought joy to many residents who were no longer able to care for a dog of their own.  Residents know that if they leave their apartment door open, they are sure to get a visit from Zoe! Sometimes when there are no open doors, Zoe will just settle down in the hallway in front of a resident’s apartment where she knows she will get a dog treat, and wait very patiently.

Therapy Dog 2One can often find Zoe hanging out in our Lobby and Living Room area.  She brings her toys out and drops them on the floor in front of seated residents, hoping for a game of tug of war. Residents enjoy playing with her; though there are times when we’ve needed to remind residents that it is okay to let the dog win! 

Throughout the course of her day, Zoe travels around the building, riding the elevator from one floor to the next.  Not too long ago when one of our residents was gravely ill, Zoe visited daily and would lie on the floor by her bed. Another resident enjoys having Zoe go to the library with him and sit by his side while he reads the daily paper. Zoe goes where she is needed and seems to handle the demands of her job perfectly. 

No matter what the holiday, there always seems to be a costume that Zoe is willing to wear for the residents’ pleasure.  For Halloween, Zoe was dressed as Superman.  She was a turkey for Thanksgiving and an elf for Christmas.  Dressing up is definitely not her favorite part of her responsibilities as the community dog but she is always a good sport.

Our residents like to think they saved Zoe from Hurricane Katrina since she came to us from New Orleans just before the storm.  We certainly feel she was destined to be with us.  Life at Crosby Commons is certainly enriched by her presence.

Zoe is not the only loveable animal we have at our UMH communities. We also have our Pet Therapy Wall of Fame, which you can view here!

To learn more about our assisted and independent living communities please visit our website here or contact us today!

About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.