Wednesday evening, residents of Pine Crest Nursing Home were treated to a drop-in visit from three local certified therapy dogs as well as three therapy dog hopefuls.
Kiva, a five-year-old Golden Retriever and her owner Mark Mehlos have been certified for just over two years while her co-workers, Legend (a three-year-old Doberman Pinscher) and Maggie (three-year old New Foundland) and their handlers Rose Wendorf and Eileen Guhthrie have been certified for just over a year.
All three pairs are members of Cheyenne, WY-based Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), founded in 1990.
As Eileen explains, most dogs and handlers are steered in the direction of ATD upon their dogs displaying characteristics favorable for therapy dogs such as a calm, patient demeanor and a social personality, for example. Those interested in becoming certified must then be observed during three public visits, with observation applying to both the handler and the dogs. Upon successful observations, the dog/handler duo may then proceed with applying for certification.
While maintaining certification requires a minimum of four visits per year, most dogs make twice that many visits to various locations each year. In fact, Wednesday was Ms. Maggie’s 50th visit since last November and was Mr. Legend’s 45th visit since December. Pine Crest is just one of many local stops for the dogs, along with Kindhearted Home Care, Bell Tower Residence and T.B. Scott Library. Generally speaking, most therapy dogs on average visit a couple times per week.
As Pine Crest administrator Lisa Gervais explains, visits from the dogs prove beneficial for residents in a variety of ways.
“Most of our residents just love animals! Many had pets at home at some point. Having a chance to hold or interact with a dog makes a huge difference in their lives and sometimes may trigger fond memories in their personal lives,” she said.
“On the other hand, some residents may not have had animals or had much interaction with them, but they still enjoy the interaction. Generally speaking, the dogs coming to visit just makes a positive and notable difference with our residents. Even for those who are unable to communicate very well, the benefits from therapy dogs are very similar to that of music therapy. They may not be able to verbalize or express their happiness from the interaction, but the positive effect is very evident. Whether it be a smile or just the happiness in their eyes, it’s great to see and I think the dogs really enjoy it too.”