Seniors discover the therapeutic benefits of having a pet

By Mary Popkin
Resident Writer

Both Consumer Reports and the newsletter published by the Mayo Clinic have recently introduced and possibly familiarized their readers with pet therapy, which the clinic describes as “man’s best friend.”

In both articles, pet therapy is not addressed as a benefit gained from animals that are trained to aid humans with sight or hearing problems. Rather, the animals written about are home pets, whose comfort given to individuals is possibly offered in response to a body gesture, e.g., a hug versus a “ready to be petted?” vocal query.

Pet therapy translates into a seen and heard action that conveys care and comfort to a master or mistress. Persons with heart conditions, cancer, or depression are among those likely to benefit from this form of therapy.

A few Riderwood beneficiaries of care from their animals were asked what they gain from these special relationships. “I come home to a warm and waiting family,” said Jane Cyphers about her dog, Prince Albert. “He gives me much more than I can give him.”

For Pat Howell, her therapy comes in the total of three cats. Her pets visit the garden outside her terrace level apartment. There, they sometimes toil the soil with their paws. Then later their paws benefit from the stroking Pat gives them. “I encourage others to gain from cats. These soul mates are devoted to me and I gain pleasure from them,” she said. These buddies of Pat bear the names Trouble, Annie and Beyoncè.

“I lost my husband some six months ago. My day begins with grief.” Kathryn Schaefer lamented. “RJ, my dog, reminds me I’m needed. That means I have a purpose. That means my sadness is lessened. Being with RJ fills a void in my life.”

Deanie McCarthy fulfills a dual, and very likely rewarding, purpose with her walks with her neighbor’s handsome black beau dog, Dunkin. He accompanies her on two strolls a day both of which remind her of similar sashays with Macree, her deceased dog. Those strolls also have a second benefit. They enable Deanie’s neighbor, Martha Lott, to focus on regaining her health while knowing her canine family member is getting necessary healthy and happy walks with a friend he and she share.

Fidos for Freedom members visit some Arbor Ridge residents once a month. Observers may likely agree that those dogs contribute to residents’ happiness. If you would like to learn more about pet therapy, research the work of Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., Research Director for the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland and a contributor to the Consumer Reports article, which prompted this story.

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