Therapy Dog Visits During Pandemic

Continuing to Connect with Nursing Home Residents During the Pandemic

My last therapy dog visit to a nursing home was March 11.  Since then they have been closed to visitors due to the Corvid 19 outbreak.  Since I usually visit each nursing home weekly, this has been hard on them – and on me.  I am writing short weekly letters to three residents and sending a simplified version to eh Alzheimer’s Unit.  Since they know my therapy dogs, I tell funny stories about things they’ve done.  Since my two acres is planted with all kinds of bird-friendly trees and shrubs, that I get a lot of birds. I include things I’ve noticed the birds doing, migrants I’ve seen, or the returning of our summer birds.  

Every Wednesday I walk a therapy dog around the outside of Westview Healthcare Center and wave at a few of my special friends.  They are confined to their rooms – no activities, no visitors, eat their meals in their rooms.  The activities people help the residents get to the window so they can see my dog (and me) and wave at us.  They have put up pictures in the windows so I can find my friends’ rooms.  I take a different therapy dog each week.  My therapy dogs, of course, wonder what in the world is going on – and why we just don’t go inside as usual.   

Last week I took Lively to the Alzheimer’s Unit at Sheridan Manor.  It was spitting a snow/rain mixture and the wind was blowing, so I wore winter gear.  It’s impossible to confine them in their rooms, so I got to see most of the Unit residents.  Joy is the “keep them happy” staff person for the unit and the one with whom I work most closely.  Of course I couldn’t go inside, but we had arranged that I’d come to the window of their sunroom.  Imagine my surprise when I got there and saw all the signs (of course that was all Joy’s doing, but the residents were quite proud of them!)  One of my favorite residents had insisted that his sign go in his bedroom window rather than with the others in the sunroom, and Joy made sure I saw it.  It was very moving; I was about in tears.  The Alzheimer’s unit is special, so peaceful and gentle (most of the time), that you fall in love with them.

We exchanged waves and “kisses” through the glass and they all reached towards Lively (whom you can’t see very well because Joy, who was taking photos, couldn’t get close to the window.  The residents crowded to the window so the staff members had to move chairs away, and then took the more fragile ones by the hand and helped them get close.  We blew kisses at each other and put our hands together on the glass.  They reached for Lively.  The nurses and other staff members came up and waved, too. I think she could smell them through the window air conditioner because she kept putting her nose close and wagging her tail.  Sure miss them.

I asked Joy to please go out when she had time and take photos of the signs, and she did and sent these to me.  

I’m letting her know whenever I have to come to town and will have a therapy dog with me.  If it’s a good time for them, I’ll stop by.  Friday I had to make a trip to town and it happened to be Berakah’s turn to ride in the car.  Joy was working the entire home rather than just the Alzheimer’s Unit.  She made a sign “Cel, visit here.” and put it in the window of one man who really wanted to see her and told us where to park to most easily access his room.  When I got to the window, she was in the room and helped the man to the window.  I’m teaching my dogs to put their feet on the windowsills so it’s easier for the residents to see them and reach for them.  They like to touch them through the window.  I also move about 6′ away from the window so they can see the dog.  

All of us hope this nightmare will soon end.  Thankfully, no one in the nursing homes here has contracted the virus.  I pray that will continue.

August 2020 update:  The pandemic continues and is taking its toll.  Several of my favorite residents have died, including the one I talked about above.  Others are failing, in part due to the lack of stimulation as they must remain in their rooms all their time.  I continue to write weekly letters so we stay connected.  And I take a therapy dog weekly to both nursing homes.  Joy sent me the following photos, one form June and the other from July:



See my other therapy dog pages:  

My therapy dog story
Therapy Dogs
Berakah – Therapy Dog for Children
Berakah Doing Reading Dog at School
Berakah Doing Therapy Dog Presentation at Museum
Lovely Doing Reading Dog at School
Cantor – Therapy Dog