Franciscan Communities utilizing pet therapy as wellness programming.
There is a resident at St. Mary Healthcare Center in Lafayette, Ind., that has a special connection with birds. He tries to visit the community’s aviary every day and when he does he whistles to the birds and they whistle back.
At Franciscan Health Care Center in Louisville, Ky., resident Ellen Habich has found solace in a small and slender Siamese/calico mixture cat named Sally Ann. Ever since Ellen’s husband Frank passed away in February 2004, Ellen and Sally Ann have spent their mornings together.
Addolorata Villa resident Clara Sterk passed away in late January. Clara was a dog lover her entire life and truly adored whenever a certain German Shepherd named Gretta would visit. Knowing how much Clara loved Gretta, her family requested that the dog and her master, Sister Anne Lindquist, attend Clara’s wake and funeral.
It’s this kind of love and affection that has led all Franciscan Communities to include pet therapy as part of their wellness programming. In addition, numerous studies over the years have shown that positive associations between humans and animals have been beneficial to one’s wellbeing.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 60 percent of all American households have at least one pet. This means that for many of our new residents a void is created if they no longer have a dog, cat, fish or other pet as a part of their life.
That void has been alleviated within our communities. Many Franciscan Communities have policies in place that allow for some independent living and assisted living residents to own pets. In addition, every Franciscan community is utilizing some form of animal assisted activities or more in-depth therapies as a prescription for resident happiness.
Besides having family members and associates bringing their own pets in for visits once or twice a week, St. Mary Healthcare Center has also had the local zoo visit with a variety of animals, including rabbits, iguanas and chinchillas.
“We don’t have an official program set in place here but we get a variety of different pet visitors each week,” said Lynnette Biviano, director of social services. “On my very first day here they had a pet donkey named Nicodemus, so I knew I was working at the right place.”
A variety of pet visits seem to suit the residents at George Davis Manor in West Lafayette, Ind., just fine.
As part of its outreach program, the Columbian Park Zoo visits GDM on a monthly basis and brings a variety of different animals. Dementia residents, especially those that shy away from crowds, are given the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with the animals, which has proven to be extremely beneficial.
In addition to the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine bringing animals for community outings, residents enjoy visits from a greyhound and two Labrador retrievers, as well as the Pet Paws program.
Pet Paws is a program was self-coined by GDM resident’s Chuck and Doris Lawrence and involves monthly visits by four animals.
The Lawrence’s daughter Terry drives an hour along with three dogs (Thor, Fox and Spud) and Yum-Yum, the cat. Once they arrive in West Lafayette, the four animals become the center of attention and generally spend the entire day visiting residents.
Chris Pieczonka, a marketing assistant at Marian Village, brings her two golden retrievers, Stasha and Niki (or who many residents refer to as “the girls”), with her to work every Thursday morning.
“Thursday is known as ‘Doggie Day’ or ‘Stasha Day’ and it’s been good for both our residents and the associates,” Pieczonka said. “Stasha’s been great for them because she’ll play with the residents and they have control over her whether they want to sit and pet her or if they want to make her chase her stuffed animal or ball.”
Every year during pet week Pieczonka arranges for many associates to bring in their own pets, while she has been able to arrange visits from llamas, Sheltie puppies, and even a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Charlotte.
The benefits of the human-animal bond are numerous. Visits from animals provide a nice change from a daily routine and they can help seniors feel less lonely and less depressed.
“When you pet a kitten your blood pressure can go down,” said Cathy Haber, director of nursing for St. Joseph Home of Chicago. “Watching fish has a calming effect.”
More of the physical benefits of animal assisted activities include the fact that petting encourages the use of their bodies.
“One of the great things about animals is that they encourage seniors to stretch and use their arms and hands to pet them,” said Betty Lawley, director of nursing for St. Elizabeth Healthcare Center. “Animals accept us as we are. They don’t see age or our physical abilities.”
In addition, animals have proven to have a natural ability to recognize when someone is suffering and in need of a loving companion.
“I’ve seen our kitties take up with residents who are sick or depressed,” Haber said. “Animals know when someone doesn’t feel well and they will stay with them to bring them some comfort.”
And the animals don’t tend to forget those that adored them most. A particular resident at Marian Village passed a while ago, but Stasha didn’t forget him. She’d jump on the elevator and trot toward his apartment door and sniff it out for him. She has only recently come to the conclusion that he is no longer with us.
All pets that reside within our communities, or are brought in for a visit, must be pre-approved by administration, deemed safe for the community and given a clean bill of health. Each facility may also have designated areas where pets are allowed.
Please be sure to call any of our communities to learn about any special animal visits or if you would like to get involved in animal assisted activities.
Return to Health Education