THERAPY DOGS

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Before I am quizzed with emails and phone calls, the puppy belongs to my nephew Damian over in England. His name is “Hugo” and he is a Hungarian Vizsla. They are great family dogs.

At a recent Connections Club we focussed on family reunions. Last week we extended that focus to family pets. Not surprisingly everyone present had owned a cat or dog at sometime during their life and some had owned fish, mice, birds of many breeds and colors, rabbits, turtles, tortoises and the odd hermit crab!

Of all of these pets, it is the dog who is “man and woman’s best friend”. Dogs are known to have therapeutic qualities. Indeed the American Kennel Club promotes a program that enables dogs of all types to be trained and registered as therapy dogs.

My regular readers will have noticed my “signature friend” Charlie the yellow labrador retriever at the top of every post. He is getting a little old now but is one of the most friendly, sociable, therapeutic and lovable dogs I have ever known…….. and he has not been specially trained! He is simply Charlie: fond of the family, food, swimming in the ocean, chasing after balls in the salt marsh, kayaking and sleeping. Probably in that order!

Memory Matters frequently arrange visits from groups of therapy dogs who are very well behaved and trained by their owners to show affection without becoming a nuisance or too boisterous. Sometimes I watch in fascination as a quiet participant opens up their personality when these lovely animals are present in the room.

Working as a volunteer at Memory Matters with participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias of simply mild cognitive impairment, I have become accustomed to “expecting the unexpected” and will forever be learning how best to engage and interact with them. Certainly there are times when the logical and rational answers to their questions or statements simply will not work and I have to patiently find another route or course of action. That is the challenge which I enjoy and it is a blessing to be led and trained by our first rate Program Directors. So you can imagine that when the dogs arrive their positive therapeutic vibes touch not only the participants but the volunteers too!

There are many ways we can and do encourage our participants to leave their worries behind and join in warm socialization whether it is at the Connections Club or a Social Day Care program.  We want them to engage and interact with us and each other, and whether it is through music, art, games, trivia quizzes or the therapy dogs our goal is always the same. We are enabling the whole family to enjoy the best possible quality of life and, as I wrote in my last post, that includes allowing the care giver respite and providing the foundation for their loved ones to stay at home as long as practically possible.

Please share this if you believe it could help someone.

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