How Therapy Pet Visits Make a Difference

senior centerPets on Wheels provides visits by matching facilities with volunteer pet therapy teams. Our teams visit free of charge. The pets bring support, cheer and love to the people they see. We routinely hear about people who rarely speak, yet always greet the animals who come to see them. We see older residents tear up, remembering their beloved pets who have gone. We see children increasing their literacy skills as they read stories to our pets. We see joy and love and light as a result of our visits.

Pets on Wheels visits are most often made to residents in nursing homes, assisted living communities, hospitals, and facilities for the physically and mentally challenged.

More recently, however, our regular visiting roster has expanded to include veterans’ hospitals, homeless and domestic violence shelters, teen diversion programs, substance abuse facilities, incarcerational settings, programs for the homeless and children at risk of home outplacement, stress free zones at local colleges during exam time, and library programs to help promote reading have become part of our regular visiting roster.

Our emphasis is on residents who have been unresponsive to ongoing activities or who have been identified as potentially benefitting from a therapy pet visit. Some of the people we visit have impaired cognitive abilities due to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, and often react to animals with more awareness and find them soothing. For instance, repetitive speech behavior or obsessive mannerism may cease while someone is petting an animal. For children with reading issues, the dogs provide a safe, non-judgmental ear to listen, and many parents see impressive improvements after reading to our therapy dogs.

The sad truth is that more than half of all nursing home residents have no relationships with their relatives, and many receive visits less than once a week. Visits from our pet therapy teams literally do help to lick loneliness. Pets act as intermediaries; they assist in “breaking the ice” when strangers meet. Ideally, a close three-way bond forms between the resident, the pet, and the volunteer. It’s incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.

Many of the people we visit wait expectantly for the team to arrive, and frequently even those with significant cognitive challenges will remember the pet’s name. For those who are unable to leave their beds or rooms to participate in other activities, pet visits can give them a chance to participate in the activities of the day and to share memories from their lives.

We believe in what we do. We see the happy faces of the people we visit and hear the joy in their voices. We get to see the smiles when the facility goes abuzz with excitement when the dogs enter. We see the college students release their stress from exams while playing with our animals. We see the children with disabilities hugging a pet and letting them lick their faces and laugh with sheer joy. We know that Pets on Wheels is a program that makes a difference.

Pets on Wheels is a 501(c)3 organization and our federal ID # is 52-1657528.