Pets provide brain boost

As soon as Sookie’s owner Helene Dahl turns down the street toward St. Therese Villa, the 10-year-old rescue dog gets excited. She knows she is going to visit her friends at the supportive living facility.

“Sookie is glad to see them—probably for the treats—and they are just glad to see her,” says Helene Dahl, Pet Therapist. “All places for seniors should have access to pets. The residents give up an awful lot to come here, so any moment of joy we can bring them is a bonus for them and for us too.”

Sookie is one of three therapy dogs who visit St. Therese Villa regularly. Helene and Sookie are matched with residents who are dog lovers. Resident Doreen Kirby, 85, is a perfect fit.

“Hi Sookie—I will give you a little one now,” Doreen says to Sookie as she produces a treat from a container she keeps on the side table in her room.

“I am crazy about dogs; I have had lots of dogs. In fact, I had seven at one time,” says Doreen. She even has a picture of her prize German Shepherd, Alfred, on her wall.

Recreation therapy in care centres has evolved from a focus on entertainment to brain health. According to Recreation Therapist Christey-Ann Veldman, a visit from a dog can stimulate a person’s mind on many levels.

“A dog can brighten someone’s mood, it can be a conversation starter or it can trigger memories,” says Christey-Ann. “We even had an event where we brought in a number of dogs, so the residents could learn about the different breeds. It was educational and a lot of fun."

The site also allows families to bring their pets for visits as long as they meet health and behaviour requirements.

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