Among the many activities on the monthly activity calendar at The Palace Gardens in Homestead is one that is a residents’ favorite—pet therapy. Each week, pet owners bring their pets for animal-assisted therapy typically known as pet therapy.
At The Palace, these are pets that have been specially trained and their visits bring comfort and joy. More and more animals are being used for therapeutic purposes at assisted living and memory care communities and visit on a regular basis. Therapy animals can range from dogs and cats to rabbits and even llamas.
Research indicates that therapy animals are used to promote health and healing whether someone is depressed, chronically ill or has disabilities.
“When the animals interact with seniors they bring smiles to their faces,” said Jennifer Almodovar, the Memory Care activity director at The Palace Gardens. “People connect with the dogs and feel the love they provide. The dogs visit residents who lavish them with attention. Animals can listen without judgment and give unbiased affection.”
Therapy animals are often confused with service dogs but therapy dogs have been obedience trained and provide affection and comfort. Therapy dogs are generally very calm and well-behaved, so they do not upset or make those around them uncomfortable. Their handlers play an important role because a handler makes a commitment to regularly bring the animal to the community.
“We find the dog visits are also therapeutic. People may recall memories of special pets in their life and the pet visits give them things to talk about,” added Almodovar. “The therapy dogs help seniors who may be withdrawn, making them happier and more communicative.”
The ability to have something to pet or touch can result in lower blood pressure, help normal a heart rate and reduce stress. For dementia patients, animals can be soothing to those who have difficulty using language.
At The Palace Gardens memory care, robotic pets are used too since these are more convenient to use and those with dementia and Alzheimer’s may not differentiate between the two animals.
To learn more about The Palace Gardens and schedule a tour, please call 305.247.0446. If you have a registered pet therapy dog and would like to visit residents, The Palace Gardens welcomes volunteers.