My mom has a personality that allows her to do crazy things that would normally be incredibly embarrassing, but somehow she is able to get away with them. Then again, maybe I just think they are crazy because she’s my mom (can you relate?). Either way, one of the things she loves to do is bring our cocker spaniel, Jelly, on adventures. Jelly can be a little high maintenance, so this is not as easy as you might think. I remember when Mom would bring Jelly along to visit our great uncle Frank, who lived to be over 90 years old before he passed away. For me and my sister Katie, these trips meant making sure Jelly didn’t freak out and wet the rug! Now, I’m glad we put up with it, because some very cool things also happened when Jelly was along.
When I read this article from in-law-suites, Pet Therapy for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care at Home, I was really taken aback by how keen Mom’s intuition was. I saw with new eyes that bringing Jelly along was really an ingenious move. I was amazed as I learned about all the ways pet therapy, also known as animal assisted therapy, can open doors when caring for an older adult. A good-natured animal can help one calm down (and can even help lower blood pressure), inspire memories, give one a sense of giving back as they pet and nurture the animal, and can open dialogue between different age groups where conversations otherwise are strained.
Great Uncle Frank loved Jelly. He would laugh at her small dog nervous antics or enjoy getting her to do tricks for biscuits. It was a great opportunity to see his personality to really shine through. Way to go Mom!
If you have a well-behaved animal and happen to know an older person who could use some attention, maybe this is something new for you to try. There are two great resources right here in St. Louis: Love on a Leash is a national organization with local chapters. Love on a Leash focuses on animal assisted therapy (not service dogs) and the St. Louis chapter is one of its largest. Support Dogs, Inc. (supportdogs.org) is a national non-profit organization based in St. Louis that provides support dogs, as well as animal assisted therapy.
One last thought: when we talk about pet therapy it definitely isn’t limited to dogs, though we’ve zeroed in on canine resources here. We’d love to hear about other pets and their therapy success stories too!