I want to thank one of my readers for pointing me to this awesome article about dogs who help people. You know who you are, take a bow! You too SQ. We might disagree 99% of the time but on this issue we can both agree.
It’s easy to see why Samara, a 10-year old Samoyed, is a beloved pet. Her luxurious white fur calls out to be petted, her dark eyes brim with steady affection, and the curl of her bushy tale clearly says “happiness” in a language everyone can understand.------------
But Samara is much more than a pet. She has an occupation. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call her a health care professional.
Samara works one-on-one with seniors who face multiple, often debilitating, health challenges; she teaches life skills to youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; she even helps children learn to read. She has been credited with bringing people back from the brink of death, and has helped ease the passage of those who can’t be brought back.
The Views is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming place. Heart-warming because you can see how much care and energy goes into making the residents’ lives comfortable and meaningful. The staff is kind and attentive; there are big windows letting in light and a view of the estuary; there are bingo games, card games, manicures, visits by a hairdresser and other organized activities.
But it is also heart-wrenching, because regardless of all that, The Views is still an institutional setting, a far cry from the warm embrace of a family home. Residents of The Views often have multiple medical conditions, such as dementia and limited mobility. Quite a few are in wheelchairs.
“For most people, this is their final address. The average life-span of people who move here is five months,” says Dave Fletcher, who as well as being Samara’s guardian is also the unit facilitator of the local St. John’s Ambulance Dog Therapy Program.
Samara’s role, in this setting, is to cheer people up and encourage them to connect to the world around them.
She is very good at her job.
Dave leads Samara around The Views on a leash, stopping to meet people in the hallway, visiting residents in their rooms, and making their way around tables in the common area. It is there that Dave spots Mike, reclining on his wheelchair. His facial muscles are slack, his eyes unfocused.
Dave heads over to Mike, pulls a chair up beside him, and motions for Samara to jump up onto it. Many of The View’s residents need Samara to come to their level so they can see and touch her. For a moment Mike’s eyes remain dull, his face passive, but then a bright spark of interest shines as he recognizes who it is. Slowly, he turns his head, which is supported by a headrest on his chair, in Dave and Samara’s direction. Dave says hello and moves easily into friendly small talk as he reaches down, picks up Mike’s hand and places it into the soft fur of Samara’s neck.
As his hand connects with Samara’s warm body, Mike’s face transforms—the change that comes over him is as dramatic and uplifting as when the sun suddenly emerges from the clouds after hours of rain and gloom. His hand works in Samara’s fur, and he starts to answer Dave’s questions. Samara sits calmly, looking right at Mike, and, I would swear, smiling.
This sort of scenario repeats throughout Samara’s hour-long visit. It has been proven that therapy dogs can improve physical and mental health, enhance vocabulary and memory, and increase sociability and movement, and that petting a dog reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, distracts from chronic pain, and helps people deal with grief. But it is one thing to read these assertions in print and quite another to see it in action.
Read the whole article, it will warm your heart on a cold day. I would love to meet Samara, what a wonderful dog! I bet SQ and her Lab would enjoy visiting with Samara too (just don't talk politics). To all those who volunteer, good job. To those of you with special dogs, who help special people, thank you. You are wonderful, but I have to admit your dogs are the ones who are really awesome! Who could resist Samara's cute face? Not me!