Tuesday Topics #37 - Young or Old?

It has been a while since I've posted a Tuesday Topic, but I would love input, especially (but by no means exclusively) from readers who have experience with a therapy dog program

Last weekend, I completed the human training portion of the therapy dog program. Our next step is to pick a facility and go through a mentoring process, first visiting the facility with the mentor and her dog where I would be observing them. Then, the mentor will come with Cabana and me and observe us, provide feedback, and if needed, come with us another time, until we are comfortable going on our own.

So I'm trying to decide whether to volunteer at a facility for older folks (an Alzheimers assisted living facility near my house) or in an elementary school classroom in the next town.

I think Cabana would be fine with either age group, although it's hard for me to know for sure until we actually try it. As a reading dog, I think Cabana would enjoy being around the children, but it involves sitting still (and pretending to listen to books) for a long period of time, up to an hour. Of course, she can take breaks in between readers, but mostly, it's sitting or lying still. At the Alzheimers facility, we would either go during their "social hour" or visit residents in their rooms. So there would be more walking around and shorter visits with a greater number of people. I'll likely be having the same conversations over and over again, since the Alzheimers residents might not remember what they asked me two minutes ago, but I don't know if that's such a bad thing. Or maybe it will drive me crazy, I just don't know.

This therapy dog program recently lost a lot of its facilities, due to a split in the group. So there aren't very many places to choose from. The Alzheimers facility and this particular school are the only places within a 10-mile radius. I had originally wanted to volunteer at the library, but that is no longer an option.

Any thoughts on which way I should go, older people or young 'uns?

Emily and the Labradors  – (February 1, 2011 at 11:24 AM)  

I could see benefits and fun at both places. But from some of your descriptions of Cabana, she reminds me of Gelly, who I think would have more fun going around visiting different people versus having to lay still (although I think she could do that too). Plus, the Alzheimer's unit has a special place in my heart as I have lost family members to the horrible disease (one of which was in an assisted living facility and loved the visiting dogs). I wish I had the time to get one or both my dogs involved in a therapy program, but it just wasn't in the cards at this point in my life. Good for you for taking all the necessary steps!

OSU 98  – (February 1, 2011 at 11:34 AM)  

Like Emily, I can see the benefits of both places. However, having been in an Alzheimers facility, I don't think I could go in there on a regular basis. It was one of those places where the residents had to be locked in an area and there were several residents walking around yelling. An old man was sitting on a couch and took Chelsie's face in his hands...his face was expressionless, and he was just petting her and looking at him. I had her by the collar - based on what was going on around me, I had no idea what he was going to do. Turned out nothing happened, but I was extremely uncomfrtable in the whole situation.

When we were visiting Dodd, we did not go into rooms where traumatic brain injury patients had behavior problems, as that could scare the dog.

I think either one would be fine. You just have to decide what you think you can handle the most. :) I wasn't sure I would be able to visit Dodd long term, but I could.

Briana  – (February 1, 2011 at 12:28 PM)  

Really depends on the dog! I can understand your thoughts on Cabana perhaps preferring to walk around instead of lying still, but one thing we realized with Penelope is that kids just have a lot more energy than older people, whether they're sitting still or not, and Penelope THRIVED on that. The younger the child, the happier she was! With people with Alzheimers, you may be walking in between rooms and people, but Cabana will probably have to be a lot calmer and quieter during the actual visit so she doesn't startle people, tear fragile skin, or bump people when they're not balanced. Though some kids can be nervous, many of them are more physically resilient than older folks. Really, it depends on which group Cabana likes better. Have you been able to observe her around both kids and older people? Anyway, just some thoughts; and you might not be able to tell for sure until you try one or another! Looking forward to hearing your stories from whichever place you go! :)
~Briana & Beto

Cassie and Dagan  – (February 1, 2011 at 3:18 PM)  

I think Cabana would be a great dog for the kids! I can picture her watching them read to her, intently paying attention to their stories.

I think she would be great in either situation, but I love the idea of her listening to the kids reading.

Hailey  – (February 1, 2011 at 10:22 PM)  

We take our guide dog pups to an assisted living facility that has an Alzheimer's unit every other week. The residents love seeing the dogs and will often talk about the dogs that they used to have. Yes, it sometimes hard to visit because the residents are so mentally lost and confused but the puppy visit truly brightens their day. The residents are truly in a prison both mentally and physically and only get visitors if someone comes to them. I would encourage you to try the Alzheimer's unit and see if it is a good fit for you and Cabana.

Martha G  – (February 1, 2011 at 10:38 PM)  

I hope you give some serious consideration to the Alzheimer's program. Reading to kids can be fun, but often Alzheimer patients will respond to a dog when they have not responded to anyone else. Also, at the facility where our humane society pet therapy program visits, one of the leaders has a whole program they follow including reading books out loud, especially animal books. He said it was really amazing how much people remember. It sounds like a lot of fun. I think you could be pleasantly surprised by the Alzheimer facility.

Raiser Erin  – (February 1, 2011 at 11:07 PM)  

I can see your dilema. I too have lost a family member to Alzheimer's disease. Speaking from experience, it might be hard after a while to continue to go into the unit every week. There are those patients who make you happy even though they can't remember you, but that's not all of the patients. It's hard to say which one is the better place to go, but I think it's all up to which one you would enjoy more. I think Cabana would enjoy and shine in both situations. Going to the school would be a lot more relaxing I think than the Alzheimer's unit. I know before I visited my Grandmother I would have to prepare myself mentally before going into the Alzheimer's unit in the Military Retirement Villiage my grandparents lived in. That's not to turn you off the idea of going to the Alzheimer's place becasue if I could at this point in my life, I might choose the Alzheimer's place (really I would do both somehow because I'm the most indecisive person in the world). It's just warning you that there might be days when you would go home a little sad, but, even if they don't remember it, it could be nice to make them feel happy for a short period of time. The having the same conversation over and over and over again isn't quite and irritating as you first think it might be. :)

Becky  – (February 2, 2011 at 7:27 PM)  

That is indeed a difficult decision. They both would love you and Cabana so much! Cricket loves children so much that I would probably lean towards reading with the kids. Although I can see how much those older people would love a visit. I read the later post first and that is so nice they have a resident dog there.

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