“And They Call it Puppy Love…”

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Animal Assisted Therapy Program Visits Nursing Home Residents


CULLMAN – Recently, eight dogs spent their afternoon at Cullman Health & Rehab Center for an animal assisted therapy program with the residents.


Joyce with Comfort Care Hospice joined our group of volunteers while Melinda with Cullman Health & Rehab Center toured us around the facility for about an hour to visit the residents.


One of the volunteers, Teresa, became familiar with the pet therapy program when she attended a dog obedience class with her Chihuahua, Raquel. She spoke with another class attendee who wanted to get their pet trained and certified as a therapy dog. Teresa knew that Raquel had the perfect disposition to be a therapy dog. She said, “I immediately knew Raquel loved everybody. She wanted to be loved on by everybody and is sweet to all ages.”


Raquel went to dog obedience school at 6 months old, finished at 8 months old, and has visited nursing homes for about a year now ever since her graduation from her Canine Good Citizen certification class. Teresa is looking forward to taking Raquel to children’s hospitals soon.


I asked Teresa what her favorite part about visiting the nursing homes was and she replied, “When the residents hold Raquel and I just see a peace come across their faces and they start talking about the dogs they used to have.” The residents love holding Raquel. She only weighs 7 lbs, so she is just the right size to sit in the laps of the nursing home residents.


Another volunteer, Paula, brought three dogs with her on this particular visit. One of her dogs, Luke, is a standard poodle and is learning how to read. As of now, he reads and obeys four words: sit, down, shake and high five. He will eventually know how to read and obey 10 words. Paula also has two Bichons, Jack and Stella. Stella rolls around the halls of the nursing home in a stroller while her brother, Jack, likes to walk on a leash as he visits the residents. When I asked Paula how she got Stella to ride in a stroller, she responded, “I just expected her to do it, and so she did.” This is just one example of the obedience each dog operates in, which makes them ideal for therapy dogs.


 “How often do y’all come?” one resident asked after holding Raquel. The group of volunteers visits a different nursing home each month, rotating among five nursing homes in Cullman. As a group, the volunteers have visited Cullman Health & Rehab Center, Woodland Village Health Care Center, Woodland Haus Assisted Living, Cullman Long Term Care & Rehab and Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center. The group visits a nursing home on the last Sunday of each month. However, each individual and their therapy dog can and will visit nursing homes throughout the year at their leisure.


During the October and December visits this year, the volunteers and their dogs will dress up for Halloween and Christmas. Their Christmas visit will be the first week in December.


This story was originally published in the October 6, 2014 issue of CullmanSense print edition