Laura Harrow lay quietly in her chair, blanket pulled up around her-until Duffy entered the room.
Laura’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Her wide smile grinned from ear-to-ear as the therapy dog gently approached.
“Oh my. Oh my,” said Laura, amid puppy licks. “Let me show you pictures of my cats,” she said as she pulled out her cell phone and then proceeded to point to the back of her door where photos were taped. “The black one is Shadow and the calico cat’s name is Hazel,” she went on to tell their life’s story.
Residents at Englewood Health and Rehabilitation Center on Engle Road enjoyed a pleasant evening on Tuesday, December 5, with their 4-legged, tail-wagging visitors from Three Rivers Visiting Dogs, Inc.
Owner Kami Elwood walked a black and white Australian Shepherd around the sitting room, where the residents gathered to meet the dogs. The therapy dogs were placed gently near a resident’s feet as the resident would talk the ears off anyone who would listen. Sparking happy memories, each would tell about their dog, or cat, that they previously owned.
Leading a beagle around on harness and leash, handler Joe Murphy stopped at one of the resident’s sporting a U.S. Marine cap and grey sweatpants. His hand soon reached down to scratch Duffy’s ears.
As they walked up and down the hallway of the health care center, Duffy and DeeDee were both patient and fearless, unfazed by wheelchairs or hospital beds.
Holidays can be a difficult time, a depressing, lonely time. Providing companionship, if for just a brief period, is a special, heartwarming gift for these residents.
“The canine visitors have had an enormous impact over the years,” said Terri Walker, Activity Director. “Their friendly, accepting presence helps relieve anxiety and depression, especially during this time of the year.”
Englewood Health has therapy dog visits from Three Rivers Visiting Dogs, Inc. scheduled every first Tuesday of the month at 7pm.
Bob Everest, owner of 2 therapy dogs, is the founder of Three Rivers Visiting Dogs, Inc. Bob said, “Since 2000, the club has grown to over 100 volunteers and 130 AAA (Animal-Assisted Activities) therapy dogs.” The use of dogs with this type of program includes a wide range of interventions. TRVD makes visits to all area hospitals, over 60 different nursing homes, attends events for suicide prevention week, goes to Huntington County jail, various school’s reading programs, yellow ribbon events, and this week, IPFW-during finals. Their mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives, one visit at a time, through their trained dogs. With the motto Love-Happiness-Compassion, Bob said, “We are open to other Fort Wayne area visits as well. Just contact me and I will contact the right person and dog to come out.” The TRVD organization looks at these visits as a chance to do public service, he said. “It’s not only a benefit for the residents of say a nursing home, but also helps TRVD.”
All breeds-all sizes are accepted-all are AAA therapy trained dogs. Dogs and handlers must successfully complete an assessment then training, before they can do a visit. Therapy dogs are known to increase mental and physical stimulation. They can help regulate blood pressure and respiratory rates, reduce the need for pain medication, and, provide a much-needed doggy kiss during stressful times. After completing a high-level therapy dog training program, these dogs pretty much know how to read body language or sense pain. Evidence shows that petting dogs releases those “happy” hormones like oxytocin and serotonin which helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Some dogs are just not happy unless they have a job to do. Kami said, “My therapy dog has brought tears to my eyes, and joy to many people’s lives.” DeeDee, during her visit at Englewood Health it seems, was very good at her job. DeeDee began her work as a therapy dog 5 years ago, and handler/owner Kami said she already found her place in the hearts of many.
Bringing happiness and relaxation, members of TRVD have volunteered their time and dog(s) with years of service. Many 5, 10, 15 years or more. The top 10 visiting members of the year, in a get together on Sunday, December 3 at Shoaff Park, were recognized. Young and old had therapy dogs, but on this day, they left their dogs at home-to just be a dog. The member that was awarded the most visits was Sharon Laupp with 216 visits throughout the year. All together the club had served the community with more than 2000 therapy dog visits.
While it is plain to see what both, the patients at Englewood, Duffy and DeeDee, get from these visits, “any” kind of visit is important during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. Comfort and joy. It’s a good feeling to be able to spread some cheer and bring some happiness, by just being a dog.
102-year-old Walter Schrubkowski, resident at Englewood Health and Rehabilitation Center, looks forward to the monthly therapy dog visits. DeeDee has been a therapy dog for 5 years and handler Kami Elwood has been a volunteer with Three Rivers Visiting Dogs, Inc. for 10 years.
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