Thursday, March 3, 2011
There are two things that can almost always bring a smile to any face: Children and animals. As my elderly grandmother's health and mind deteriorated in the years prior to her death, a child or an animal could still make her smile. This fact is not lost upon senior centers that use therapy animals to bring joy to their patients.
According to The Delta Society – a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting therapy through pet ownership and interaction – the health benefits pets have on seniors are undeniable. The Delta Society website cites studies asserting that seniors with pets have fewer doctor visits and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Those of us who’ve had the privilege of being pet owners know firsthand that a pet offers unconditional love and companionship. My own pets seem to know when I need some furry affection, and their presence is calming.
What does it take to provide pet therapy to seniors with your favorite pooch or kitty? If you are interested in using your pet in a senior therapy setting, the first step would be to find out what your local senior living facilities require. For the safety of senior residents and patients, most senior facilities may require any visiting pet to be certified for animal therapy. State and local regulations will also need to be explored. Other centers may only require proof of immunizations or a form from your veterinarian stating that your pet is recommended for therapy. You should also check with your insurance agent regarding liability if something were to happen. You will need to make sure you are covered in the event of a problem, and the senior facility you visit may want some type of liability waiver.
Ask your veterinarian for advice and information about health regulations and concerns. Any pet that spends time around people for therapeutic purposes must have a calm temperament. They need to be willing to tolerate strangers and a lot of touching. Your vet should be able to help you determine if your pet would be a good candidate as a therapy pet. My cat Garfield would be a great therapy pet, as he has a very laid back temperament, loves strangers (especially those who offer affection) and is not the least bit high strung.
Therapy animals also need to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and have regular checkups to ensure their health and the health of the seniors they visit. Your best bet would be to make an appointment with your vet for a checkup and a consultation about your pet's potential as a therapy pet.
The Delta Society advocates the use of pets for therapy purposes and offers tips on how your pet can become a therapy animal. In order to have your pet certified for therapy with The Delta Society, there are a few prerequisites. You may also need to contact your county's animal control office for any local requirements regarding pet therapy. Some regulations may vary from state-to-state, city and county.
For further reading, check out Julia Williams' article about the qualities a therapy cat needs, or Suzanne Alicie's article about therapy dogs in the CANIDAE Special Achievers program.
Photo by Federico Scotto d'Antuono
Read more articles by Tamara L. Waters