Residents Benefit From Canine Visitor
Residents of Elmcroft Assisted Living's Memory Care Community light up when Tess comes sniffing around.
Each month Kathy Constantino, along with Tess, a Delta Society certified canine, visit residents at Elmcroft. Constantino, a retired teacher, doesn't mind playing second fiddle to Tess, who is no doubt the star of the show.
"Faces light up as soon as they come in the door," says Judie Luse, program leader of Heartland Village, Elmcroft's Memory Care Community. "We're always searching for activities that assist memory care residents, and when Kathy called us and explained the Delta Society training, we knew this was for us."
All a resident needs to do is call out and the mass of brown fur, broken only by liquid brown eyes and a black nose, redirects herself toward the voice.
"Some residents can recall their personal experiences with their own pets, even remembering the pet's name," says Luse. "We had one woman whose eyes filled with tears as she talked about her own dog, Blackie."
Tess's "cool," however, belies her hard-scrabble beginnings. According to Constantino, Tess was given to Hoke County Animal Control to be euthanized. She was rescued by Solutions for Animals; Constantino was called and the rest is history.
"We were looking for a companion for Abby, our first therapy dog, and Tess was a natural," says Constantino. "She was easy to train in the basic obedience skills needed to take the certification test. She has an amazing aptitude for the job."
Delta Society's Pet Partners program trains volunteers and their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities. Animal-assisted activities are basically the casual "meet-and-greet" activities that involve pets visiting people.
According to Constantino, the Pet Partners program was established to ensure that "both ends of the leash," people as well as animals, were well-prepared to participate in animal-assisted activity and animal-assisted therapy programs.
"The reason schools and the hospitals require certification is to make sure the pets are well behaved, safe and reliable," she says. "Also, the organization insures the pet owner with a 1 million dollar liability insurance policy, in case an incident would occur involving their pet," explains Constantino, adding that Moore County is fortunate to have many teams certified with Therapy Dog International too.
All animals who participate in the program must be healthy and free from parasites, disease, infections and illnesses. The team evaluation process examines the animal/handler team to see how well the handler interprets and manages the animal's behavior and how well the animal responds to the handler. The main emphasis is to have the animal under control at all times.
Before moving to Seven Lakes seven years ago, Constantino participated in a therapy dog visitation program in Peoria, Ill., with her chocolate lab, Alix.
"I learned to love the involvement that a pet owner can have with their animal at that time," she says. "Fortunately, animal visitation programs have expanded throughout the country, and the impact on people's lives has become more apparent."
She adds that many studies have been conducted confirming the benefit therapy animals have on people during the more difficult times of their lives.
Constantino currently has two "teams" - Tess and Abby, a warm yellow Lab - both of whom have been visiting facilities in the Sandhills area for more than a year. They participate in the Moore County Schools reading program, visit Elise Middle School in Robbins, and also participate in Animal Assisted Therapy at Moore Regional Hospital's Rehabilitation Department. Constantino is currently completing the 12-hour training program required by the State of North Carolina for the FirstHealth Hospice program, which will pilot animal-assisted therapy with hospice patients this spring.
Neither dog is overworked, Constantino quickly points out. When not sniffing for hugs and smiles, both get lots of time to chase geese, go for long walks and lie in front of the fireplace.
According to Luse, animals are increasingly working their magic at memory care facilities across the county.
"Just like musical activities, pet therapy is being incorporated into a calendar of activities and in doing so is engaging people with dementia in meaningful interactions that help improve quality of life," she says.
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