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Nursing homes are probably the most common place to find therapy dogs working today. One Australian study concluded that, “Like children, many elderly people benefit from something constant, something fixed, such as the undying loyalty of an ever-present pet, as everything else changes around them.” Another study found that when nursing home residents spent as little as 30 minutes each week with a dog, their feelings of loneliness were significantly reduced. Alzheimer’s disease patients who spend 30 minutes per week with a visiting dog become calmer, more responsive, and better able to think clearly. Nursing home staff members have been found to benefit as much as, or even more than, patients do from having a residential dog to help soften and humanize the institutional setting. As a result of these well-known benefits of introducing therapy dogs into nursing homes, hospitals are now beginning to get with the program. The Prescription Pet Program, a joint venture of the volunteer association of the Denver Children’s Hospital and the local veterinary medical society, arranges for trained therapy dogs and their owners to make short visits to consenting patients in their own rooms. The volunteers spend as little as 10–15 minutes with each patient every two weeks, and also make regular visits to specialized areas of the hospital, such as the dialysis unit, special care nursery, or psychiatric unit. Because of infection concerns in the hospital setting, all volunteer dogs wear special smocks to reduce dander and allergic reactions, are bathed before each visit, and receive frequent evaluation and testing to make sure they carry no bacteria or parasites that could be spread to patients. The program has been a great success. Patients who participate are calmer, more relaxed, and have lower blood pressure than patients who don’t interact with the dogs. As one therapy dog volunteer put it, “Dogs don’t see what people see. They don’t see a broken arm or a missing leg or a scar, which may make a patient embarrassed. Dogs make no judgments. They don’t want anything from you and they don’t have to say the right thing. They don’t expect anything except perhaps a pat. They just want to give love.”

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