Mac the black Labrador.

Pet therapy has positive effects on seniors

Dogs and cats filled the arms of smiling seniors last Friday at Rocky Mountain Village (RMV).

By Phil McLachlan

Dogs and cats filled the arms of smiling seniors last Friday, when, led by Cathy Smith-Clark, the Pet Therapy representatives visited Rocky Mountain Village (RMV).

This Pet Therapy group visits the RMV retirement home once a month, and was started 23 years ago by Smith-Clark and Shelly Moulton in the hospital extended care division.

Many different animals have participated in this group, and now the animals in attendance generally consist of Rosie, a Chocolate Lab, Mac, a Black Labrador, Sadie, a Boxer puppy and Precious, a Rag Doll cat.

Animals in attendance vary, depending on which pet therapy worker can make it or not, and themes change depending on the holiday. However, the goal remains unchanged each time.

“The goal is generally the same,” said Smith-Clark. “It’s to help people feel better, when they pet or hold an animal because it reduces their heart rate, it lowers their blood pressure.”

“When we pet a dog, both the dog and ourselves feel a hormone called Oxytocin, that makes us both feel better. So that’s really good for the seniors.”

Oxytocin is a hormone that has undergone intensive study, and it has been found to play a role in dogs with maternal bonding, trust and altruism.

Each animal belongs to the individual that brings it, but the animal must be very well trained, be calm, quiet, controlled, as well as be clean and brushed with their toe nails trimmed.

Moulton is responsible for setting up these monthly visits, every second Friday of the month. Average attendance numbers range from 20-30 seniors, who enjoy holding the smaller animals and petting or watching the animals move around.

“One thing I find very interesting is that they [seniors] will start to talk to you about their pets from their past,” said Moulton. “So they start to remember their dogs name, or what kind of dog they had, or where they’re from.”

Smith-Clark also participates in bringing an individual dog to the bedside of a person who is dying, which not only comforts the family, but also helps the animal in accepting the loss of their owner. Otherwise, the dog will tirelessly search for their owner, which can lead to exhaustion and/or desertion issues.

“If they want to see a pet, I’m always happy to take whatever they like, a dog or a cat onto their bed,” said Smith-Clark.

The pet therapy group is always looking to expand, and hopes to one day also visit the Tom Uphill Memorial Home, and back to the hospital if there is ever a time that someone is in long-term care and needs an animal to comfort them.