Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pet Therapy on Cape Cod: Spread the Joy!

This week our pooch and mascot, Grigri, started his career as an animal assisted therapy dog, with a visit to Eagle Pond Rehabilitation Center.

What is animal assisted (or pet) therapy?

Dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and other small animals are used to improve a patients social, emotional, or cognitive  abilities, and to bring affection and happiness to those who are in a hospital or institutional setting. The health benefits of owning or loving a pet are well-documented and the smiles a pet therapy visit brings to the faces of the elderly or infirm are not easily forgotten.

What's a pet therapy visit like?

We arrived at the lobby of Eagle Pond to meet other therapy teams and spread out through the facility. Grigri was very excited by the prospect of a new place and other dogs and wanted to bark and play - NOT the purpose of this visit! Some animated Christmas figures near the door sent him into a tizzy! He acts like he's seen a ghost whenever he encounters a statue of a dog or person, especially one that moves and sings! He soon settled into the "job" of visiting, though, and  we talked with half a dozen patients about their pets, their families and their holiday plans. In the dementia unit one woman just petted and smiled, petted and smiled, hanging onto his ear in the most charming illustration of the bond people have with animals and its power to create joy. It's a very rewarding experience for both dogs, owners and patients alike.

How can you get started in pet therapy?

On Cape Cod, dogs have to pass the Canine Good Citizen test to get started, then be evaluated by the Companion Animal Program of Cape Cod (CAP). CAP makes sure that dogs have basic obedience skills and are not frightened by wheel chairs, walkers, or people who look or act different. One the therapy team is approved, they can start visiting local nursing homes, assisted living facilities and libraries (for the Reading to Dogs program for children) with the guidance of CAP. In 2011 there are 201 members, 29 visitation sites (including 5 libraries) and 128 or more active therapy teams.

We'll keep you updated as Grigri makes his way to his AKC Therapy Dog title, which requires certification with an approved AKC Therapy Dog organization (CAP of Cape Cod is one), registration with AKC (Grigri is registered in the AKC's Canine Partners program for mixed breeds) and 50 or more therapy visits. That will take a few years!

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