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Mon, Dec 1st 2014 11:00 am
Niagara Hospice pet visit volunteer Prince enjoys a visit with Niagara Hospice House resident Glenn Greenwood with whom he has developed a special bond over the last nine months.
Niagara Hospice pet visit volunteer Prince enjoys a visit with Niagara Hospice House resident Glenn Greenwood with whom he has developed a special bond over the last nine months.

Many people are familiar with helpers of the canine persuasion, mostly guide dogs and hearing dogs. But have you ever heard of therapy administered by a cat, dog or even a bunny?

More and more animals are participating in the treatment, care and emotional nourishment of seriously ill, injured or disabled individuals of all ages. Animal assisted activities, also known as Pet Therapy, have been discovered to help people by reducing blood pressure, increasing mental alertness, reducing anxiety and helping to increase attention skills. In one study, children with Autism were found to experience a significant increase in pro-social behavior and a decrease in autistic behaviors such as self-absorption. Many medical institutions, including Niagara Hospice in Niagara County, now incorporate pet therapy into their more traditional ministries.

At Niagara Hospice, trained volunteers provide pet therapy visits to hospice patients and their caregivers. Their pets are canines that have completed specialized pet therapy training. Visits are designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive functioning. Benefits of pet therapy visits include:

  • Medical studies have shown decreases in heart rate and blood pressure because people are able to relax when animals are present.
  • Individuals who have mental illness or low self-esteem focus on themselves; animals can help them focus on their environment.
  • Empathy is established and patients begin to understand the motives and feelings of others.
  • Nurturing skills are learned. Psychologically, when a person nurtures, their need to be nurtured is being fulfilled.

Some of the goals of pet therapy visits are to improve interactions with others and reduce loneliness. To facilitate these goals, Niagara Hospice pet therapy dog Prince, owned by Mike and Michele Shaw of Lewiston, visits residents at Niagara Hospice House every Thursday.

"Prince is a rescue dog we adopted at the SPCA more than 12 years ago," Mike said. "We never envisioned he would become a hospice pet volunteer, but for nearly six years he has brought smiles, happiness and comfort to hundreds of Niagara Hospice patients in their homes, nursing homes and Hospice House. To see Prince develop special relationships with many of them has been an emotional and heart-warming experience." Prince's innate sense of how to approach each patient is evident in his gentle demeanor. Prince is a 14-year-old Husky Mix who clearly enjoys his work as much as his clients enjoy his visits.

Pet therapy animals are non-judgmental, great listeners and can provide instant unconditional love and attention. Visits are most appropriate for patients who speak of previous pet ownership, or those who suffer from depression, loneliness or anxiety. Strict precautionary measures are practiced by the facilitator to ensure the safety of the patient, the animal, the handler and the home. All animals are examined by their veterinarian and given an extensive behavioral evaluation.

You may wonder what makes a good therapy dog. Visiting dogs must be social as well as calm, tolerant and friendly. Visits should be pleasurable by the handler, the dog, and the patient to obtain best results. For more information or to find out if you and your pet could have a future in Pet Therapy, visit www.deltasociety.org. The Delta Society has long been known for their work in improving human health through service and therapy animals. To become a Niagara Hospice pet visit volunteer call 280-0748 or e-mail info@NHAlliance.com

It has long been observed that pets have a comforting and often healing touch that no one else can duplicate. Their nonjudgmental, sensitive ways are something we can all try to emulate.

Niagara Hospice has provided end-of-life comfort, care and support since 1988 to over 20,000 Niagara County individuals and families faced with terminal illness. No one is ever denied hospice care due to inability to pay. If you or someone you love is struggling to cope with a serious illness, call Niagara Hospice at 439-4417. More information can also be found at www.NiagaraHospice.org.


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