Monday, August 29, 2011
Animal Assisted Therapy Takes You To The Heart Of The Matter
Happy Birthday, franki
Today is franki's birthday. In case you haven't learned from previous posts, he is my registered therapy dog. Eight years ago, Dr Linda Buettner started Florida Gulf Coast Pet Partners, and franki and I were among the first teams to be registered. Dr Buettner, now living in North Carolina, was not only an animal lover, but also a researcher in the area of Alzheimers and Dementia.
She knew from her own clinical research and that of others, that Animal Assisted Therapy could enrich the lives of older adults at home and in nursing homes.
Over the last 8 years, franki has brought me straight to the heart of many of my patients and others we have visited. As we make our way down the halls of the nursing home the grumpiest nurses smile, the quietest patients make eye contact, and for others, franki serves as the cue for them to share stories about their own lives and pets they loved. As for franki, any pet partner will tell you, their animals take the work seriously. He has tolerated being hugged a bit too tightly by psychiatric patients, drooled on by a few others, and as he gets older, I notice him looking longingly at the resident's bed, hoping for an invitation to hop in and nap.
The unconditional love that all pet owners experience, seems to be the ingredient that is infused into pet visits with a patient. Last year I was working with a woman, Nancy, who had language problems from several previous strokes. She loved to talk, but as a listener, it was difficult to follow the content of her speech as she flitted from topic to topic, never quite finishing a thought. One day, during a visit in which I was accompanied by franki, she began telling me a story of how she started an animal assisted therapy program in Miami, where she had lived much of her life. Knowing Nancy's proclivity for confabulation and story telling, I listened with a skeptical ear. Perhaps sensing my doubting, or to re-live the experience again, she demanded that I pull a large photo album off a bookshelf. As we began to turn the pages together, there ,in photos and article after article was the documentation of her work of introducing animal assisted therapy to her community over 30 years ago.
We talked about her work, and how now, many years later that she was on the receiving end of a pet visit. Her words are poignant, and reminded me that we health care providers often know very little about the lives and history of our patients. Giving them the time and the opportunity to share those narratives, whether talking to us or our pets, may serve to calm and reassure them of their value still in life.
Watch Nancy's video below:
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