Sometimes a wet nose, wagging tail, and furry paws can make a connection like nothing else can. This observation isn’t just anecdotal, studies are proving the benefits that our pets bring to our lives – especially dogs. Petting them can lower blood pressure. Enjoying their company can decrease depression. Walking and caring for them increases activity and motor skills. Throughout Lutheran Senior Services (LSS) communities, emotional support dogs do all of these things and much more for residents.
Princess, emotional support dog at Lenoir Woods, an LSS Life Plan Community in Columbia, Missouri, has been cheering up the Lenoir Woods Care Center for 10 years. Admittedly a pure mutt who enjoys chasing rabbits in her spare time, Princess was trained in a Puppies for Parole program and continues to do much good at Lenoir Woods.
“Princess loves everyone regardless of their age or condition,” says Anna Lower, Lenoir Woods’ Director of Lifestyle Enrichment. “Staff, families, and residents all light up when they see her in the hallways. Everyone stops to get their pets in.”
At Heisinger Bluffs, LSS’ Life Plan Community in Jefferson City, Missouri, Toby spends his days cheering residents by playing fetch with them and getting lots of pets. A rescue dog from a local organization, Toby has a natural knack and temperament for his role at Heisinger Bluffs.
“Every morning I tell him, ‘Let’s go give love’ and he’s ready to go,” says Rita Rivera, Heisinger Bluffs Director of Lifestyle Enrichment. “That’s what’s so great about dogs, no matter who you are you can get and give love.”
Toby and his fellow emotional support dogs also play an important role in drawing residents out. People who normally may not be engaged or just might be having a bad day, immediately perk up when they hear the patter of four paws and see a furry face coming their way.
Residents at Meramec Bluffs look forward to visits from Abby, a therapy dog who comes every Thursday. She’s the highlight of the day for many residents.
“Residents are happier and walk away with a pep in their step after Abby has left,” says Shannon Bradley, Director of Lifestyle Enrichment at Meramec Bluffs, an LSS Life Plan Community in Ballwin, Missouri. “They reminisce about good memories about their dogs. Abby can really draw residents out.”
Almost everyone has a dog story and these are good memories that can help residents connect and oftentimes not only with the emotional support dog they are petting.
“It brightens their day,” explains Tom Berger about bringing his dog, Athena, to visit residents in Memory Care and Assisted Living at Laclede Groves. “You can tell the people who had dogs, some will talk to me about their dog and just pet her. It’s a good memory to bring back, nothing else gets that same reaction.”
Berger himself is a resident in Independent Living at Laclede Groves, an LSS Life Plan Community located in Webster Groves, Missouri. He walks Athena three times a day, noting that she’s an excellent companion who keeps him moving too. He and Athena regularly join residents from the Care Center for ice cream and impress everyone with their ability to share a bowl of ice cream… With two spoons, of course.
Training is something that staff, residents, and Stanley are working on at Breeze Park, LSS’ Life Plan Community in St. Charles, Missouri. Stanley is a puppy who is learning his commands and everyone at Breeze Park is learning along with him.
“Everyone enjoys watching him grow up and seeing his puppy antics as well as the different commands that he has learned,” says Julie Bayless, Breeze Park’s Director of Lifestyle Enrichment. “We talk about different words and techniques to get him to sit or lay down. It’s been good because we’re training him and staff and residents are learning too.”
In addition to the emotional support dogs who spend most of their days in an LSS community, there are several groups and volunteers who bring their dogs in to visit with LSS residents.
Jane Schaefer has been bringing her dog, Dakota, to LSS communities including Laclede Groves and Richmond Terrace, an Assisted Living Community in Richmond Heights, Missouri, for several years. She enjoys how Dakota has helped her to forge a relationship with many people.
“The good thing about having a dog is we get to talk with the residents and over time we get to know them because we’ve been going for years,” says Schaefer. “We have ongoing conversations about dogs and other things.”
Schaefer recently told her doctor about her volunteer work and he said that she was probably getting more benefits from this work than the people she visited.
Another regular visitor is Noah, a specially trained comfort dog with Lutheran Church Charities K9 Comfort Dogs. One of his handlers is Ruth McDonnell who enjoys how dogs can be a bridge to share Jesus with people.
“It’s sweet to have these interactions,” says McDonnell. “Especially with people in Memory Care, they really connect with the dog. It’s amazing to have people come out of their shells.”
Do you have a well-mannered furry friend? If you are interested in learning more about how you and your pet can visit LSS communities, check out the Volunteer Page.