Dogs aren’t just used as service animals—they are also used as therapy animals, visiting the elderly or sick in their homes or hospice care.
Lisa Marcolongo has teamed up with her golden/labrador retriever mix Tali to visit people over the past six years. Marcolongo also works part-time at The Elizabeth Hospice in San Diego, where residents love their four-legged visitors.
“They enjoy her presence and the warmth Tali brings,” Marcolongo says. “She puts her head in their lap so they can touch her head and she has been trained to gently get into bed and cuddle with them, so they feel that warmth. I think whenever people are not feeling well, touch and warmth are very important.”
Seeing dogs around also spark fond memories of life with dogs prior to the nursing home or hospice.
“There are some patients with dementia who may not remember what they had for breakfast that morning but a lot of times, they remember the animals they had growing up,” Marcolongo explains.
Here’s how it works: Pet therapy teams coordinate with social workers who offer a list of services to potential patients, dog therapy included. If the patient chooses pet therapy as part of their care, a team will be contacted and paired up with the patient.
There are also groups that visit nursing homes. Love on a Leash, a non-profit group in Southern California, will credential pet therapy teams and assign them to other agencies in need.
“It’s something the residents look forward to,” Marcolongo says. “It’s nice to see the response from the patients. It just brightens their day.”