Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Puppy Love & Alzheimers

This week our family welcomed it's newest member- Tozi (after the Atzec goddess of nature & water), an 8 week old Portuguese water dog (a virtually non-shedding, friendly breed often used as therapy dogs). I want to share a wonderful experience that this young pup has already brought to us. We took Tozi to visit my Dad, who lives in a memory care unit. All of the residents have some form of dementia, primarily Alzheimer's. As we walked in carrying the puppy, we were greeting with smiles, oohs and ahs. Although I was a bit apprehensive about her wiggly body and sharp puppy teeth, I asked if anyone would like to pet her. And did they EVER!

Almost every resident not only wanted to pet her, but asked to hold her. They snuggled her to their chests and chins, encouraging her to give them a "kiss" on their cheeks. I was amazed at Tozi's instinctive, unbelievably CALM response. She went practically limp in their arms, gently raising her head for pats and kisses. One sweet lady balked when we went to remove Tozi from her arms- "Don't rush me! I could hold her and love on her all day!" The joy one tiny six pound pup could bring was immeasurable. I started asking everyone about what pets they had cherished, and all the residents seemed to jump in. One lady had every type of pet you can imagine, and a few I'd never heard of (waltzing mice?!)

Our other dog is a labradoodle, another breed that is often used for pet therapy. Full therapy dog training takes a few years, many courses, and lots of consistent practice. That being said, I believe that a loving snuggle with any cooperative, calm pet goes just as far for most people suffering from dementia. Obviously, you must be careful that the animal does not harm anyone (the lawyers make me add that!) Our pup has already made a second visit, and the smiles & joy keep coming.

BOTTOM LINE: People with dementia are thirsting for love and touch as much if not more than the rest of us. Remember to share some some love & touch- or maybe even some puppy love-on your next visit.

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