Pet Therapy Benefits Seniors and Home Care Recipients

06 Sep Pet Therapy Benefits Seniors and Home Care Recipients

"Happiness is a warm puppy."  Charles Shultz (cartoonist, Peanuts)

It is common knowledge that owning a pet has many physical and mental benefits for people of all ages.  Research shows that it may even have more of a positive impact on seniors and home care recipients, who are homebound or reside in assisted living or nursing homes.  Just 15 minutes bonding with an animal can set off a chemical reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increasing the feel-good mood hormone serotonin.

In the short term, these changes lead to a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and lower stress levels.  Over the long term, the impact of pet therapy may help lower bad cholesterol levels, reduce pain and protect against heart disease and stroke, which leads to better home care outcomes. Pet companionship is also a boost to mental health by reducing loneliness, anxiety and promoting feelings of relaxation. The unconditional love of a dog brings healing and meaning to what can be a lonely stage in life.  Family members, friends and caregivers who sit in on animal visits with seniors also reap the benefits and feel better too.

I spoke with Pat Coglianese, who is the President of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in Westchester County, NY.  She said, "As president of Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and being a certified therapy dog team for many years, I have seen firsthand the benefits of having a dog visit seniors.  Many seniors have told me that the visit with my dog “made their day”.  I have also seen how impactful a visit can be during physical therapy sessions.  For example, we were visiting with a 103-year-old woman who was resisting using her walker.  Once we arrived, she was more than willing to walk while holding the dog’s leash.  Therapy dog visits bring back memories of beloved dogs that people have owned.  We often hear wonderful stories of people’s experiences with their dogs and how much they meant to them.  In short, the impact that therapy dog visits can have on people is immeasurable.  I am proud to be able to visit with my dogs to share smiles and joy with those in need."

Pat with her dogs, Jess and Tia.

Picture of Jess & Tia with Pat Coglianese from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs


Owning a Pet is a Big Responsibility

While the ultimate goal of having an aging loved one stay in their own home is to surround them with familiar creature comforts, it may not be the best time to take care of a live creature such as a family pet or make this the time to acquire a new one.  The responsibility of owning a pet - vet bills, walking for exercise, grooming, preparing its meals - might be a burden for both caregiver and the senior. If that is the case, and owning a pet is not in the care plan, think out of the dog house and reach out to a local certified pet therapy volunteer to come for a weekly visit to their home. 

Judy Audevard is President of Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, which operates in Westchester County, NY and Fairfield County, CT.  When we spoke with her she said, "Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause has been in existence for over 8 years. We are a 502c3 non profit composed of all volunteers.  We have had the honor and privilege to work with seniors, children and military families. The difference an animal makes to a person’s well being is amazing. Dogs are not judgmental. They don’t care If there is an error in speech, a problem with language, or a physical issue. Therapy dogs want to be petted and make people feel good! Both a wagging tail and sloppy kiss are the best medicine!"

Judy with her therapy dog, Lulu.


What is Certified Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy is a broad term that includes many animal-assisted therapy and other animal-visiting activities.

Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders such as PTSD.

"Service Animal" is a term often used interchangeably with "therapy animal", but they are completely different.  The official website for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states, "…service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure....Service animals are working animals, not pets."

Visitation therapy, on the other hand, has a more general purpose, such as providing comfort, enjoyment and connection for seniors. For example, Mayo Clinic has a dog therapy program with more than a dozen registered therapy dogs - and their masters - enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Caring Canines program. They make regular visits to hospital departments, patients and will make a special visit on request. Unlike service animals, therapy animals are not supported under the ADA, meaning that they may not be allowed at certain public venues or in living situations in which the there is no-animal policy.

Give STEPS Home Care a call @ (855) 548-1797 to discuss pet therapy visitation programs available in Fairfield County, CT, Manhattan, or Westchester and Nassau Counties, NY.

Suggested Pet Therapy Programs

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Provides therapy in many settings, including but not limited to airports, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehab facilities, mental health institutions, schools, hospitals, cancer centers, hospice facilities, college campuses and can also provide therapy in patients’ homes. ATD teams may choose to be members of local therapy dog groups. They may also participate in nation-wide therapy dog initiatives with organizations like the Red Cross and Reading Education Assistance Dogs. Available in the Westchester County, NY area.

Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause

Helping those in need of emotional support of any kind. We are there to share a story, a smile, or to help a struggling child read or interact socially.  All of our dog/handler teams are registered therapy teams. They are highly trained and covered by insurance when they volunteer. They are also certified Reading Education Assistance dogs. Home Visits not available. See their website for more information on where you can join dog therapy visits at local locations and facilities other than in-home visits.  Hudson Valley Paws services Fairfield County, CT, Westchester County, NY as well as several other areas in New York.

Therapy Dogs International (TDI)

Volunteer group organized to provide qualified handlers and their Therapy Dogs for visitations to institutions, facilities, and homes.  TDI is a non-profit organization. There is no charge for visitations. Canine membership includes both purebred and mixed breed dogs. All dogs are tested and evaluated for Therapy Dog work by Certified TDI Evaluators.

Good Dog Foundation (No In-Home Visits)

The Good Dog Foundation (Good Dog) based in New York, NY was founded as a charitable organization to ease human suffering and promote recovery from trauma and stress using animal-assisted therapy services that are recognized as among the most innovative and reliable in the United States. Good Dog provides therapy dog services to health care, social service, educational, and community facilities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and at disaster sites around the country.  Its highly-trained and certified volunteer teams each consist of a human handler and therapy dog.  See their website for more information on where you can join dog therapy visits at local locations and facilities other than in-home visits.

How to Afford a Service Dog

For more information on how to finance a therapy dog see this helpful link:

Headquartered in White Plains, NY with offices in Stamford, CT, Garden City, NY and New York, NY, STEPS Home Care is a family, female, and locally owned company serving New York and Connecticut.  Like our clients, we've experienced the stress and challenges of caring for aging loved ones.  Our family is here to help yours, sharing experience and guidance to provide you with peace of mind.