A stroke left Wilma without words but a friendly dog speaks the language of a wagging tale. The best medicine, it turns out, isn’t a pill or procedure, but Bomber, Belle, Snowball and other furry friends.
Thanks to partnerships with Home at Last Humane Society and Heart of Hospice, residents of Columbia Basin Care are enjoying weekly boosts of comfort, joy and good health — in the form of visiting cats and dogs.
The nonprofit care facility, located in The Dalles, is home to over 60 senior citizens, many with acute health challenges who respond to the love and attention of a friendly animal.
Increasingly, research shows happiness is a warm puppy, just as cartoonist Charles Schulz told us years ago. Studies show as little as 15 minutes of bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.
Using animals to offset emotional and physical problems and improve quality of life is especially helpful for seniors, who with the loss of mobility and independence commonly experience loneliness and depression.
Each week Rheva Wren, with Heart of Hospice, brings her dog, Joki the Goldendoodle, to Columbia Basin Care. The results are often profound.
“Sometimes it is a dramatic moment where someone just snuggles up to him and doesn’t want to let go,” she says. “Other times it’s a quieter moment where someone who never participates in activities reaches out to him.”
And often, she adds, it’s the caregivers who appreciate a snuggle.
The pet visits also stir happy memories. For 102-year-old Gordon, a visiting Corgi recently reminded him of his beloved childhood pet, a German Shepherd. “He was a good dog,” he recalls. “I loved him.”
Columbia Basin requires pet visitors that are calm, friendly and obedient, with certification of immunizations.
And while seniors enjoy the licks and wags, they aren’t the only ones benefitting.
“We have a great time visiting with the residents,” says Geanna, a Home at Last volunteer who enjoys sharing the shelter animals. “It is so great seeing the smiles on their faces.”