Pet therapy brings the joy of animals to care homes

Pets As Therapy is a national charity providing therapeutic animal visits to care homes

Britain is considered a nation of animal lovers, so why should this be any different if we have to move into a care home? A dog’s silly antics and wagging tail or a cat purring on one’s lap can raise a smile, or relax anyone, regardless of age. So some UK care homes now offer residents the opportunity to interact with far more unusual animals than household pets!

Lulu the donkey is one of the more unusual visitors to Sunnymeade Residential Home

Pets As Therapy is a national charity providing therapeutic animal visits to care homes, as well as hospitals and hospices. Volunteers bring in their friendly, temperament tested, vaccinated dogs and cats and visit over 6 million beds a year, showing how much joy the pets bring and how much they are needed and valued in the care home industry.

Pets As Therapy has conducted a number of research studies into the benefits that pets bring to residents in a care home environment. Sarah Dyke’s study, Every Man’s Best Friend: Impact of pet therapy and previous dog ownership on enhancing well-being in elderly residents, followed on from previous research that demonstrated that Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs can have a positive effect on mood in elderly residents in care homes and day centres.

Sarah wanted to find out if previous dog ownership predicted an increase in wellbeing following PAT dog visits. Her findings suggest that the benefits to the resident from the PAT dog visit are irrespective of previous dog ownership. Sarah believes: “That would explain why Pets As Therapy continues to grow in terms of numbers of volunteers, dogs and establishments involved in this type of therapy and the residents they visit.”

Becky enjoying her work as a Pets As Therapy dog

Samantha Bailey has also undertaken research on behalf of Pets As Therapy, investigating PAT dog’s behavioural responses towards care staff and patients. Interestingly, she discovered that: “The dogs spend the same amount of time encouraging interaction with patient and staff members, but remain for a longer proportion of time with patients when physical interaction ceases.”

It’s not only traditional pets that can have a positive effect on care home residents – any animal interaction can bring a smile to people’s faces. The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust, brings donkeys into care homes for the residents’ enjoyment. They have six centres across the UK and run an outreach programme that involves taking their donkeys to residential homes and hospices.

An Elisabeth Svendsen Trust donkey making a care home visit

Suzi Cretney from the charity said: “Donkeys from The Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys (EST) are warmly greeted by residents whose faces light up when they see their four-legged friends walk into communal lounges, or even, in the case of less mobile residents, into their bedrooms as our special donkeys are uniquely trained to go up in lifts.

“Everybody enjoys these special visits, from the most able bodied to the frailest or most withdrawn resident.”

Guardian Care’s Lennel House Care Centre in the Scottish Borders is ideal dog walking territory with picturesque views over the River Tweed. As well as being home to nursing, dementia, residential and respite care residents, it is also the place where Jack the golden retriever puppy spends his days. Jack is five months old and a well-known sight and comfort to the residents. He’s been entertaining them during the afternoon for the last three months and as his training increases he will be able to spend more time with them.

Jack the golden retriever loves spending time with residents at Guardian’s Lennel House Care Centre

Care home manager, Grace Stein who owns Jack said: “He has only been around the home for three months, but the focus of the home has changed – everybody asks about him.”

Grace bought Jack when he was 12 weeks old, she asked management for permission to bring him into the home when he was little and from day one the residents loved him. Currently he only spends afternoons with the residents and loves a good snooze in administrator Glenda’s office. But he’s a man’s dog and enjoys spending time with residents Jock, Joe, Richard and Jim. He loves having his tummy tickled and will do anything for a treat!

Grace says the residents have really taken to Jack and that it’s a joy when they come into the office especially to speak to him. She says the atmosphere becomes warm when Jack is in and that he is proving to become a real asset around the home.

One only has to see how the residents’ faces light up and their comments towards Jack to see how he is becoming an important part of their life. Barbra has been helping to train Jack as she loves spending time with him. She has helped teach him to give his paw on command in return for a treat.

Barbara has been helping Jack with his training

Jock, in his broad Scottish accent thinks Jack is: “a bonny wee dog” and was then able to reminisce about gun dogs and how good they are at retrieving pigeons and pheasants. Helping residents to recall happy events and memories from the past is a good reason to have pets in the care home environment.

Another gentleman who suffers from short term memory problems at Lennel House, enjoys walking Jack around a local farm with Linda the activities co-ordinator at least three times a week. He looks forward to these walks and even with memory problems, he looks for Jack and remembers their walks.

Manager Grace is happy that residents like having Jack around and says one gentleman likes to lay on the sofa and encourages Jack to jump up and lay down beside him and they both have an afternoon nap. This shows the importance of animal interaction helping people to relax, reducing stress and emphasises the importance and benefits being tactile with a pet can bring.

Staff nurse, Sandra Little said: “The residents’ faces light up when they see Jack. They become animated and interact with him even when they do not respond as well with people.”

Jack is being trained up to be a friend of the home and his arrival was supported by residents and their families.

The residents at Lennel House love spending time with Jack

Gary Hartland, the managing director and owner of Guardian Care is fond of animals and has a small menagerie at his farm where he keeps rare breed sheep, highland cattle, donated donkeys, reindeer, ducks and chickens.

At Guardian homes, he has encouraged residents to bring in pets. He says: “At our home in Bowburn we have an aviary with over 50 budgies and we are also introducing chicken coops into some of the homes.

“One of our homes in Scotland has sheep as pets and where we have surplus land around our homes, we rent them out to farmers at nil rent for grazing. We feel this has been a real benefit for the residents and we are trying to encourage it in all of our homes.”

A bird of prey makes a visit to a Sanctuary care home

At Sanctuary Care, management actively promote the inclusion of at least one pet in every one of its homes. These include cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, fish and birds such as budgerigars and cockatiels. In addition, residents receive visits from a range of animals including owls, rats, scorpions, donkeys, a giant snail and a water dragon!

Research shows that stroking, playing with, feeding and looking after animals is good for the health and can reduce stress and blood pressure levels.

Len Merton, Sanctuary Group’s director of care, said: “It is all about creating homes from homes. Pets are very therapeutic and particularly to elderly people.

“Many of our residents will have had pets before and it just creates a very nice atmosphere to see a pet given a special place in a home. “We are passionate about ensuring our care homes are homely and having a pet is just one element of creating a nice environment.

“We even produce care plans for our pets to ensure they are given the same loving care as our residents!”

Pets have an important role at Sanctuary care homes

Sanctuary’s Chadwell House in Romford, Essex is proud to be incredibly pet-friendly. The home, which specialises in residents with dementia, boasts six rabbits, four guinea pigs, two budgies, two chickens and two cockatiels. The home is also awaiting the arrival of two ducks, six more chickens and an Amazon Green Parrot called Diablo!

Chris Gammons, manager of Chadwell House, said: “We find it enhances residents’ wellbeing. They love stroking the animals and it is very therapeutic for them.

“We have one resident who likes to go out to see if the chickens have laid any eggs. Many of our residents will have had animals in their own homes so it helps to create a very homely effect here. We all pitch in looking after them.”

Sanctuary Care’s commitment to promoting the wellbeing of residents extends to considering requests from people moving into its homes who may want to bring a pet with them.

Alfie the jack Russell is always by owner Sheila’s side at Bupa’s Chilton Meadows Residential and Nursing Home

Sheila Triggs has cared for dogs all her life and her jack rusell, Alfie, has been by her side for 11 loyal years. When Sheila, who has dementia, moved into Suffolk’s Bupa Chilton Meadows Residential and Nursing Home last year, her relatives helped Bupa create Sheila’s map of life. Animals made up a big part of this and it became clear how important it was to keep these two best friends together.

“Mum has always been a natural carer,” says Julie, Sheila’s daughter. “For Dad, me and my sister, her friends, and of course dogs; having Alfie with her at Bupa Chilton Meadows has allowed her to continue enjoying a caring and nurturing role.

“Alfie and mum have a strong bond and that little dog rarely leaves her side. She feeds him, takes him for walks and settles him down for his afternoon nap. She regularly takes him over to see Dad, who lives in the residential part of the home.

“They both sit together stroking Alfie and all three of them seem very relaxed and content, enjoying their special time together.”

Karen Earnshaw, care home manager at Bupa Chilton Meadows said: “People with dementia can experience anxiety, confusion and even fear.

“Stimulation and memorable moments are important to alleviate these symptoms, so it’s wonderful that Alfie lives here with Sheila to help with this.

“Stroking him will provide tactile stimulation and his presence may help Sheila to recall memories from several years ago that involve Alfie and her family. Even if these memories are only fleeting, they will be special for Sheila and will help create a sense of calm and wellbeing for some time afterwards.”

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