Every month a group of cuddly animals pay a visit to Rocky Mountain Village. Led by pet therapy representative Cathy Smith-Clark, the animals are there to interact with Fernie seniors.
Smith-Clark said the mild form of therapy can do more than just bring a smile to a person’s face.
“When a human pets or strokes an animal their heart rate and blood pressure goes down. Also, oxytocin is released by both the human and animal,” she explained. “Nurses tell me some people never smile or laugh until they communicate with an animal.”
The seniors that attend get the chance to watch the animals from their walkers and wheelchairs, feed them treats, and hold them on their laps.
At the latest pet therapy session on January 18, Smith-Clark brought along Precious, a trained rag doll cat who has been doing pet visits for three years, and Shorty, a dog who has been entertaining seniors with her tricks for 14 years. Also making an appearance as a special guest was Rebel, an eight-week old Chihuahua-Terrier cross.
Smith-Clark believes the animals get just as much out of the visit as the seniors do. “Puppies learn to forever love people in wheelchairs and find them friendly contraptions.”
Smith-Clark began pet therapy in Fernie 19 years ago. Her very first session was with a baby llama at the Elk Valley Hospital’s Extendicare. Over the years she has spent time at the hospital and Tom Uphill Home, before moving to the Rocky Mountain Village. Some of the pet guests have included Golden Retriever puppies, orphaned kittens, a ferret, white rat, angora bunnies, and doves.
“The animals are all healthy, clean, groomed, trained, gentle, dependable, and safe,” said Smith-Clark.
She also brings along an album filled with pictures of pets and encourages the seniors to tell stories of pets they have owned.
New to pet therapy is the inclusion of a puppy training program, where the seniors can watch and participate as the pets learn basic tricks.