Visiting Pets Program
So you want to be a pet visitor?
Welcome to a wonderful experience. If you have asked to join us…. you must be a caring, thoughtful person and we are glad you are here. Whether you are bringing your own pet or borrowing one, there are a few guidelines we hope are helpful for you. Some General Information No matter what facility we work in, we are under the direction of the Activities Director. They are glad we are here and very helpful to talk with… perhaps they know someone who could use a special visit…. or even someone who does not like animals… so stop by and talk with them when you have a chance.
Please remember that we are here as a professional (volunteer that is) and confidentiality is important. Information about residents is not to be shared with others outside the program. If you want to take pictures… sometimes residents really like to have their picture with a four-legged friend…. remember that you must check with the Activities Director first to see if the resident has a signed photo release in their file…. and also that you have permission from the person whose picture you want to take. Oh yes… we are here just to visit. It is easy to want to do something for some one…. perhaps someone is asking you to raise the bed or get them a drink of water. If anyone asks you for help, please go and get a staff person to help. You do not know…. perhaps they broke their hip and it is not okay to raise the bed. If there is something more that you want to do, talk to the Activities Director. Sometimes having an advocate can make a difference.
People like to give animals treats. Please use your judgment on that…. you do not need to give your animal anything you think might not be good for it… and sometimes animals get more interested in treats than in the people. But if you do allow your animal to have treats, you might want to bring your own healthy ones…. chocolate cookies may not be the best treat for your dog. It might be good to bring a small bag of cheerios or some other not too exciting treat that you can share with residents to give to your pet if you want. A treat might help keep your pet interested as long as you do not think it will cause a behavior problem.
Please be sure your animals do not eat things off the floor…. it could be medication that someone dropped… and could be deadly for your animal. This can be hard to do when dogs are snoopy and you are involved with a resident. Please keep dogs on a short leash… you might get distracted or stop to talk to someone and not notice a shaky person coming around the corner just as your dog walks across the hall to visit a friend.
Some Things People Like
they like to see tricks, especially when they can give the commands…. shake hands seems to be a good one… it is an interaction and a warm response from another when so often these are people who have little opportunity to initiate a warm responsive contact. People like to be giving… especially treats. We’ve already talked about that one. People like to talk about their animals. Or sometimes people like to sit quietly without talking. Some people like animals on their beds. Others might be in pain and physical contact could be uncomfortable. Some people can not see so they may want you to help them find the animal. Others can not hear so you will have to speak clearly. Some people may not speak clearly and that can be frustrating for both of you, but after awhile you will begin to understand them better as you get to know them. One person may just want to visit and not pet the animal, while another may want to lie quietly with a purring kitten next to them. Please ask… do not sit on a bed unless the person has said it is okay. Ask before you go in a room…. just as if you were going into someone’s home.
Find any way you can to respect the other person’s power and right to their own wishes and space…and remember the staff…they can use a friendly wag or purr too…. or not… as they wish.
Oh…sometimes people like predictability…to know when you are coming. It is good to come regularly, not necessarily every week…but whatever schedule is comfortable for you…maybe every second and fourth week…or maybe every first Sunday….whatever…but some people count the days and weeks until you come to visit and know if you changed your schedule. This happens more after you have formed a relationship with someone. And knowing when you are coming especially helps us to know that everyone is getting visited.
Some Things Pets Like
Please also remember that the pets are important. It can be hard work for them to be here… and we want to make them as comfortable and as happy to be here as possible. A sad animal is not going to help a person be happy. You might want to bring a bowl for water…. in the winter sometimes the building is hot and animals get thirsty. Remember to take breaks outside, too. And bring a plastic bag in case you need to clean up when they do go outside. Maybe your pet would like some toys to play with while you are visiting, or maybe someone would like to comb and groom them.
Living (and working) in a convalescent center is hard. Our animals bring an attitude and an experience that makes a difference… down to earth…. unconditional acceptance, warm physical contact, a piece of the outside world…. perhaps the smell of fresh air on a soft dog coat, a warm smile or tail wag or even a wet kiss, a living creature that will interact and respond positively… maybe shaking hands on request… or purring. This can make a difference to both residents and staff.
We hope you have a valuable experience here. Perhaps you will make a new friend… get to know someone who has a lifetime of experience to share…. or a strength to their struggle that helps you with your own… or see how what really matters can be a smile on the face of someone who no longer can speak. Perhaps you will come out with a new perspective.
If you are interested in learning more about visiting pets, you might want to get your pet certified through one of the national programs such as the Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International (or both). There is much to learn about visiting pets and these people are eager to educate and support those who are interested. There is a Therapy Dog International certification program here in Richmond and we can help you get in touch with these organizations if you are interested. There is also a wonderful book in the Pamunkey Library…. Rosie, A Visiting Dog’s Story, by Stephanie Calmenson (636.7 Cal) if you would like to read about another dog’s experiences.