Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pets in the Eldercare Community

As I visit the elderly in assisted living, skilled nursing and memory units of eldercare communities, the response of life-long dog lovers to my therapy dog, Murphy, is both sweet and sad. These folks smile, pet and hug Murphy, and tell stories of their own dogs. Some of those stories are about having to leave a dog behind when they moved in. Those are the sad ones. You see it in their eyes and you know, absolutely, if that dog could be with them, their days would have renewed purpose (caring for the dog), laughter (dogs are clowns), bragging rights (ask him to give you five, go head, ask him), and of course, unconditional love.

Thanks to a friend and therapy dog handler who works in one of these communities and suggested this, I was asked to consult with a resident, her family and the resident's five-year-old small breed dog. The resident was lucky enough to be able to bring her dog with her to assisted living. But a disruptive dog has to go. And this dog is becoming increasingly reactive (and very loud) toward other dogs and in peril of being sent away. The goal is to prevent that from happening.

Today I spent an hour with a therapist, the resident, her dog, and a family member. Here's how it went:
  • the dog was out of control, running and jumping on furniture, when we entered the resident's room
  • the resident was unable to quiet the dog effectively
  • the dog responded well when I asked the resident to put his leash on
  • the resident, the dog and I sat on the floor where I offered a bit of chicken for a polite sit, which he gladly provided
  • we talked quietly, reinforcing good behavior in the dog and after a few minutes he settled into "training"
  • the dog is sensitive to touch, reacting a bit negatively when touched on the back
  • when we left the resident's room to take the dog for a walk (with me on the other end of the leash), he was responsive, making good eye contact with me
  • the dog became anxious from time to time - seeming to be sensitive to unexpected sounds
Next visit we will see if I am able to start teaching the resident the skills she needs to keep her dog. As with so many elderly people, she has memory loss. And that's the challenge: create a plan that will work in spite of that memory loss.

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