Healing Paws

Posted on 24 June 2009 by WoodsPoint

Pine Creek Journal

Bethany Hofstetter
Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Therapy Dog International test at Misty Pines

Some of the favorite volunteers at Pristine Pines have four legs. Chaos, an American Hairless Terrier, visits the residents at Pristine Pines assisted living home, in Franklin Park, when Chris Dibert brings him along for a visit with his mother. What started as a way to socialize Dibert’s 12 puppies turned into an anticipated visit for the residents.

“If we don’t have (a dog) with us, they’ll ask ‘where is the puppy today,?'” Dibert says.

Many local nursing homes and hospitals welcome animal owners who want to volunteer their time and pets in pet therapy programs which are beneficial for the residents.

In 1999, Passavant Hospital initiated a pet therapy program in their skilled nursing unit. As the hospital reorganized and regulations changed, the skilled nursing unit was replaced by the rehabilitation unit, but the pet therapy program remained.

Elaine Bozza, the unit director for the rehabilitation unit at Passavant, says the hospital retained the program because they saw the benefit to the patients. Marie Tollerton, a rehabilitation certified nurse at Passavant, works with the patients and observes them when the dogs come to visit.

“It helps the patients relax and talk about more things than their therapy or pain,” says Tollerton about the pet therapy program.

The program has been especially beneficial to stroke patients with dysphasia, or the inability to speak. Tollerton says petting the dogs is a “normal action for them when so many of their actions are not normal.”

Debbie Gordon, director of resident care at Pristine Pines, welcomes many animals into the Pristine Pines facilities in Franklin Park and Pine.

Pristine Pines kept fish, birds and mice in the communal spaces of the homes for the residents to enjoy. And for those who miss their furry friends, volunteers share their cats and dogs with the residents.

“Just because you turn 90 doesn’t mean your desires change … some (residents) are animal lovers,” Gordon says.

The pet therapy program began five years ago in an effort to make the residents feel at home. Since then, Pristine Pines has accumulated a bank of hu-man and pet volunteers.

Many of the dogs that visit Pristine Pines are trained and certified through Therapy Dogs International Inc., a volunteer organization which regulates, tests and registers therapy dogs. In 2006, more than 15,000 dogs and 13,000 handlers were registered with Therapy Dogs International.

Therapy Dog International test at Misty Pines

Misty Pines Dog Park Co., in Franklin Park, is one of the facilities that trains and tests the pooches to be therapy dogs. They have offered four tests per year for the past 10 years to certify dogs as therapy dogs.

Heather Walls, of Reserve Township, had two dogs go through the program. Walls enrolled her Siberian Huskies, Denali and Rubi, 9 and 4 years old respectively, in the program for additional training. When both dogs passed the test, Walls decided she would put their therapy dog certification to use.

Denali now visits Children’s Hospital in Oakland, and Rubi visits the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Aspinwall.

“It’s really rewarding to see the work with the dog pay off and appreciated,” Walls says. “It brightens (the patient’s) day and makes them smile. It’s such a break from their routine, where everything is about their condition … it’s very rewarding to be the person who does that.”

Therapy Dogs International re-quires each dog to complete a series of 11 exercises. Exercises range from sitting politely for petting to appropriate reactions to distractions.

Therapy Dog International test at Misty Pines

Jeff Woods, president and owner of Misty Pines Dog Park, says he is proud of his training program. In the 2005-06 year, about 50 dogs passed the test and were certified as therapy dogs. In the fall, 100 percent of the dogs who went through his program passed the therapy dog test.

“The dog has to be somewhat bulletproof … through all the distractions the dog has to be stable,” Woods says. “We want to condition the dog to remain comfortable and stable so when they are out in public the dog is behaved.”

Gordon says the animals make a difference in the residents’ days.

“It’s like seeing a child getting a puppy on their birthday — that’s how the residents respond,” she says. “(The animals) don’t care if you’re in a wheel chair, fat, ugly or old. They just want to be loved.”

But Gordon doesn’t take responsibility for the success of the program and stresses that it is the volunteers who should be honored.

“It is a wonderful thing. It’s really all the community. It’s them that take the time to bring in their pets. I just take the phone call.”

For more information on therapy dog certification in the Pittsburgh area,
contact Misty Pines Dog Park Co. at:
Phone: (412)364 – 4122
E-mail: info@mistypinesdogpark.com
Web Site: http://www.mistypinesdogpark.com
Address: 2523 Wexford Bayne Rd, Sewickley, PA 15143.


If you are not from around the Pittsburgh area, please visit the Therapy Dog International web site at www.tdi-dog.org for more information.

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