Pet Encounter Therapy at Helen Woodward Animal Center
Animals often bring out the best in people. They can calm hyperactive children or stimulate movement and interaction in those with physical disabilities. Studies document that holding and caressing an animal provides benefits such as relaxation, lower blood pressure, improved long- and short-term memory, and sensory stimuli.
During our Pet Encounter Therapy visits, we have seen many miraculous things such as movement from an unresponsive patient or heard words spoken for the first time – all to the amazement of fellow residents, staff members and Pet Encounter Therapy volunteers.
The following memories are documented from some of our Pet Encounter Therapy volunteers. We are so grateful to their passion and commitment, not only to animals, but to the clients they so faithfully serve. Names and places of our clients have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
“Better Than Physical Therapy” – Genevieve and her therapy dog, Mishu
This week while on therapy visit, Mishu and I saw Mrs. K. Mrs. K leaned forward and stretched out her hand determined to pet Mishu. Her caretaker explained that it’s very difficult for Mrs. K to use her hands and increased motion is one of her goals in physical therapy. Reaching for Mishu, Mrs. K not only extended her fingers and her hand, but also leaned forward with help to pet Mishu’s ears. She accomplished as much in three minutes with Mishu as she did in 30 minutes of physical therapy, according to the caretaker.
Conversely, Mishu eagerly meets people with illnesses. He has come to understand that the Pet Encounter Therapy volunteer van means we’re going on visits, and now he runs right to when we are preparing to go out. His life is more satisfying because of the interactions with people like Mrs. K.
“He Wanted To See Thunder Through His Hands” – Mike and his therapy dog, Thunder
James, a patient who is blind, loves a visit from Thunder. Years ago James met Thunder during a Pet Encounter Therapy visit. When we first met James he asked me if it was be okay to run his hand across Thunder’s head. I did not know James was blind at the time, but soon figured it out. James wanted to see Thunder through his hands. It has been three years now that Thunder and I have known James and he loves our visits.
“He Had Not Smiled For Three Weeks” – Stephanie and her therapy dog, Sadie
One day, Sadie and I went into a room to visit a very nice man. When he saw us, he smiled immediately, sat up, and petted Sadie quite a lot. He said he had a Yellow Labrador and really loved his dog. It was a long visit and we felt that we had made him very happy. When we left the room, a staff member told me the man had not smiled in three weeks and was dying of brain cancer, but that Sadie’s visit really made his day. I did not know if I should smile or cry.
“Thank You For All Your Visits” – Steve and his therapy dog, Shanel
I had been visiting a certain couple for a few years during my regular Pet Encounter Therapy visits with my therapy dog, Shanel, a beautiful little Bichon-Frise. The wife was the patient and the husband was loving and devoted, who was always at his wife’s side. We had never visited her when he wasn’t with her. They always sat together in two large chairs and Shanel would sit on the wife’s bed while she petted her. Occasionally she would ask me to put Shanel in her lap so she could hug her.
One day, when we arrived, the husband was waiting for us in the lobby, anxiously. He asked me to come with him because his wife was waiting to see Shanel. When we got to her room she was in bed. We had never seen her in bed before.
I put Shanel on the bed with her and she began to pet her and smile. Just before we left she looked at Shanel and said, “Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you.” As we left the husband followed us out and thanked us for coming. Then he said, “She’s going into hospice today and she wanted to see Shanel one more time.” It was then that I realized that her thank you to Shanel wasn’t just for today’s visit, it was for all of the visits that Shanel had made.
If you want to learn more about Pet Encounter Therapy, and the amazing impact is makes in the San Diego community, feel free to visit our website, or call 858-756-4117, ext. 322.