Dog epidemics reduce isolation for nursing home residents

Eileen Nagle sees her family in video chats and drive-by visits, but has not made up for the lack of hot throats in nine months as the epidemic closed her doors to visitors to her nursing home.

Enter Zeus.

“Zeus is a friendly little snowball, very happy,” said Nagle, 79, as Pepsi Bichon Freyz traveled to his room at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale, ignoring the Hudson River in the Bronx. “Playing and playing with dogs breaks the day and gets you to forget about yourself for some time.”

Hebrew Home had a pet therapy program for 20 years; The small Zeus and the gentle giant Marley the Great Dane are the current snugglers in residence. Now, activities are expanding the canine duct with two new recruits in training residents to provide residents with more affectionate physical contact that has become so rare and precious in the coronovirus era.

Jeff Phillips, 80, said, “Zeus has to come to me and come to me, especially with COVID and uplift for me.” . “I talk on the phone every day with my daughter and my son, but that’s as good as it can get for now.”

When the epidemic lock began in March, dog therapy was suspended, along with most other activities in nursing homes.

Daniel Reynold, founder of the Pet Therapy Program and president and CEO of Riversapping Health, a non-profit operator of the 103-year-old Hebrew home, said, “I decided we needed to reactivate the pets’ move-in program . “They are bringing joy and unconditional love to residents and employees alike.”

Dogs belong to staff members who bring them to work every day. But the program does not allow just any dog.

“It should be a combination of the right owner, the right dog and the right temperament,” said Reingold, whose own rescue dog, Kida, is one of the new recruits. “Dogs have to be assessed, follow basic orders and are able to withstand wheelchairs, elevators, medicine carts and everything else they will encounter on a floor.”

Cats are also used in pet therapy programs – but only robotic ones. There are many lifelong animatronic cats in the Hebrew Home that keep the meow and the residents on their lap and kill their fur. “Cats are especially soothing to people with dementia,” said Catherine Farrell, director of therapeutic activities, primary dog ​​handler and owner of Marley.

“The love of an animal is incredible,” Farrell said. “It releases endorphins, lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety. Here for those who were animals in the history of their lives, seeing the dogs communicates memories and opens the communication. “

While Pharrell has to live 6 feet away from the residents and wear a face mask and plastic armor, Marley can drop his head on his bed as they domesticate him.

“Farrell said that breaking through the social distinction barrier is really important.” “This is one of the only ways they are able to touch any other living creature and get satisfaction from that physical relationship.”

Olivia Cohen, dog handler and assistant director of therapeutic activities, said, but it’s not just about petting the dog. For some residents, the conversation can break down barriers and open up communication and emotional expression, she said.

Cohen remembers a woman who was struggling with anxiety and was having trouble coping with the new environment when she moved into the house. “Nothing will be found to help them,” said Cohen. “But when I brought the dog to him, his whole cry changed from crying, lightening his face and telling stories about his own experiences.”

For resident Elizabeth Pagan, the dog tour is a welcome relief from the isolation she has endured because she is limited to FaceTime visits with her children, grandchildren and terrier-dachshund mix ruby.

“It means a lot to me, I like when I domesticate dogs,” said Pagan, who is recovering from a stroke. “My favorite is Marley.” He gives me a lot of rest. “

“One Good Thing” is a series that exposes people whose actions reflect a joy in hard times – stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read a collection of stories at


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