Pet Therapy posted on: 11-03-2011

We were recently highlighted in print and radio for our Pet Therapy program.  It’s a great service for our seniors who may no longer be able to have a dog of their own.

Listen to Heather Kenney discuss Pet Therapy on “A Touch of Gray” Radio Show

Man’s Best Friend Captures the Hearts of Seniors on the South Shore

Senior Care Pet Therapy

McGee, a pet therapy dog from North River Home Care, visits residents at the Allerton House in Hingham.

Bogey immediately lights up the room. Residents and patients at various assisted living facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and hospitals consider his visit a highlight.

Bogey is a big, handsome chocolate Labrador retriever and is just one of the five certified pet therapy dogs who are proud partners of Norwell based North River Home Care.  The organization is entering its 3rd year providing Pet Therapy to senior care facilities throughout the South Shore.

“It is wonderful to see the joy the dogs bring to so many people” said Heather Kenney, owner of North River Home Care.  She added, “Therapy dogs seem to bring out the best in everyone. Many seniors are brought back to a happy time and place. Dogs are unconcerned with age or physical ability; they accept people as they are.”

The therapy dogs either tour a facility room-to room, or visit with a group of residents in a common area.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.

A therapy dog’s primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact.

Sandra Smith, Director of Community Relations for North River Home Care, commented, “There are a wide range of positive impacts of pet therapy.  It provides an enjoyable common interest and focus of conversation. Many seniors recall memories of their favorite family pet.” She added “Residents who are withdrawn often react positively to a friendly, trained dog, and become more engaged.  Pet therapy can reduce agitation and anxiety in those suffering from dementia. The interaction creates a sense of normalcy and helps them feel at home. People get to know the dogs and really look forward to our visits.”

The establishment of a systematic approach to the use of therapy dogs is attributed to Elaine Smith, an American who worked as a registered nurse for a time in England. Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a chaplain and his golden retriever. Upon returning to the United States in 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions. Over the years other health care professionals have noticed the therapeutic effect of animal companionship, such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and raising spirits. The demand for therapy dogs continues to grow.

Many organizations provide testing and accreditation for therapy dogs. The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test is generally a prerequisite for the Therapy Dog test and certification. Typical tests ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving.

North River Home Care provides companionship and assistance with the activities of daily living to seniors on the south shore.  Caregiver services are provided in-home, in assisted living facilities, or in rehab hospitals.  Services are customized to meet the needs of the individual and available up to 24 hours per day.

“We are delighted to offer this service at no cost to so many facilities” noted Kenney. “It’s one of the ways we give back to each community and to local seniors.  We encourage dog handlers to contact us to participate in this feel good program.”

 Article by Steve Dubin of PR Works,,