Pets are definitely therapeutic
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:46AM
A soft, furry head and cold nose go a long way to building rapport with patients, agree two therapists who bring their dogs while visiting clients at Plymouth Place in La Grange Park.
“When a dog walks in everyone is attending,” said Bethany Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist and music therapist. “It’s an in if you like dogs, and I like dogs, there’s an instant rapport that can build quickly.”
Cook, who conducts neuropsychological testing for dementia, depression and anxiety disorders, brings along her younger therapy dog, Watson, a 13-month-old Spinone Italiano, a large but cuddly dog bred for hunting.
“The most important thing is temperament, able to perform all the basic commands and not be afraid of loud noises, walkers and wheelchairs,” she said. “He’s slow and steady.”
Introducing a dog helps empower clients with dementia and restore some of their independence, she said. Patients can always say no to the interaction, but nobody seems to refuse, she said.
“Dogs are non-judgmental. They listen to you and sit down when you say to vs. someone giving you orders,” Cook said.
“When I do talk therapy, some of the residents open up,” she said. “The dog invokes memories they recall, and there’s a drop in blood pressure.”
Cook also noted elderly patients who have difficulty moving will play with the dog when they wouldn’t otherwise attempt exercising.
“They’ll throw a toy or play tug-of-war. It’s much more fun that interacting with a machine,” she said.”It improves their cardiovascular health and helps them come out of their shell. Dogs are a part of everyone’s lives.”
Sandy Ruby, a volunteer with the Hinsdale Humane Society since 2004, has enjoyed bringing Benson, a golden retriever certified as a pet therapy dog, for more than two years to Plymouth Place.
They visited Ruby’s mom in Greg’s Place for patients with dementia.
“When I see people who haven’t had any expression smile when they see Benson, that makes it all worthwhile,” Ruby said.