The Intelligencer had an article about dog therapy in nursing homes.  Therapy dogs walk the halls and sit at the feet of residents of nursing homes and hospital patients, putting smiles on faces. In addition, they visit assisted living facilities, children’s reading programs and libraries, assist with stress relief, do home visits, visit hospices, schools and shelters throughout the year.

At Mound View Health Care in Moundsville, in addition to resident facility bulldog Betsy, therapy dogs have been visiting for several years. Connie Smith of Moundsville and her dog, Shadow Dancer, have been visiting the facility for more than four years.  Shadow Dancer, a Shetland sheepdog is now semi-retired after making about 150 regular visits, but the dog still makes an occasional return. Smith said she now has a younger dog that is making the visits.

Randy Moore of St. Clairsville and his boxer mix, Sierra, have made more than 200 visits at different facilities around the Ohio Valley.

"There are not enough therapy dogs," he noted. "I think every place needs therapy dogs. It’s amazing what they can do. They can actually help bring someone’s blood pressure down and reduce stress."

Therapy Dogs International is an organization that provides therapy dogs for hospitals and other facilities. "The dogs need to be trained," he noted. They have to be able to pass a 16-part test.  Most hospitals require dogs to have TDI certification before they are allowed to visit.   It ensures the dogs have the right temperament and meet insurance requirements.

Smith said anyone who might want to get involved with TDI and bring a dog for training can call her at 304-845-7829. Moore suggested looking at the TDI Web site www.TDI-dog.org.

I have been doing research lately on the effect of animals on relieving depression in the elderly.  Many nursing homes have cats and dogs live with or visit the residents.  I think it is a great idea. (As long as you know which residents are allergic.)  I ran across this article recently.   The story is about the River Chase Village nursing home in Mississippi, and the pets who share the nursing home.   The idea stems from the Eden Alternative philosophy.  Six four-legged, furry residents of River Chase Village have the run of the 60-bed nursing home as part of a plan to empower the two-legged residents, said Nate Payne, administrator.

"They have needs, one of them being caregiving," Payne said of the residents. The three dogs and three cats that live at the home provide that opportunity for caregiving, he said.  Isbella Sharp, a resident who cares for cats Lance and Crisco, said the animals are wonderful. "They make you feel like you are at home."  The animals also help residents take their minds off their personal troubles, she said. "They are thinking about petting a dog or cat."

The philosophy extends to other areas, and the residents are included in making decisions from menus to hiring employees, he said.

"With the animals here, loneliness is out the window," Payne said. Taking care of an animal can alleviate feelings of helplessness, he said.

"Boredom well, you know, if you can get over there and rough Flip up and make him have a dogfight with all the rest of the animals, and watch that for 10 minutes in the morning, what a way to start the day. You can’t be bored when Flip is going to sit by you with that goofy look of his."

Payne said the conflicts between humans and animals are minimal. "Animals know who likes them and who doesn’t. That’s the common question: ‘What about the people who don’t like animals?’ Animals won’t go around you if you don’t like them. They are quick to pick up on that."

Ocean Springs veterinarian Matthew Roth said, "There are a lot of well-known health benefits having animals around." Among those benefits can be lower blood pressure, less stress, and less depression, he said. "The health benefits are definitely enormous," he said. However, people with weakened immune systems have to be careful or avoid close contact with animals, he said.

The animals at River Chase Village are screened for their temperament, and each has a medical care plan, Payne said.