By Phil Wyzik
There is a small local group of volunteers who are putting the power of pets into helping people’s health
in many places throughout Cheshire County. Monadnock Therapy Pets, founded in 2011 by professional trainer, Amee Abel, is a group of 25 registered and insured therapy dog teams who want to share the healing benefits dogs can bring to all sorts of situations.
Batman saves the day
Amee’s favorite story is about her dog Batman and a young fellow with special needs. She and Batman had a weekly date with this young man who was 20 years old. Because of his seizures he was at the educational/communication/emotional level of a 5-year-old.
Because his medication to control his seizures were highly sedating, this young man did not have much energy. But it was important for him to exercise to increase his strength and balance.
“But he didn’t want to take walks,” says Amee. “The staff struggled to get him up and moving each day.”
Then Batman entered the scene. Initially, the young man could walk only about 20 feet with Batman. He’d then throw down the leash and be done. He wanted to go back to his beanbag chair in the classroom, says Amee.
“I showed him … that we could give Batman a treat, and he thought that was fun.” Soon, the young man had walked farther, and then threw down the leash as a communication that he wanted to give Batman a treat. “It was a huge accomplishment … over the year and a half we made regular visits, and our walks increased in distance to cover almost a mile a week,” says Amee.
A dog called Drummer brightens a day
Edith Allyn-Page of Monadnock Therapy Pets likes to tell the story about her dog Drummer, a lively Cocker Spaniel, who thrives on meeting new people. Be it a child with autism or an adult with Alzheimer’s, Drummer plays with any patient no matter the condition.
Edith says that at one visit to Westwood Nursing Home in Keene, “a noticeably affected woman looked bright for a change when she saw us. She called out that that dog was here last week! I wasn’t even sure anyone noticed we were there at all. I was surprised by the outburst but have never forgotten it. I hope Drummer and I brighten the days for someone on our visits.”
Keeta works the rehab unit
At Cheshire Medical Center, you might encounter a gorgeous Huskie named Keeta, loved by her owner Kit Simington. Kit’s witnessed Keeta helping many patients but is fond of talking about one special visit with a patient on the rehab unit.
“They were on a table type contraption to raise the patient up to a standing position,” recalls Kit. “They had gotten about half way up and said they could go no farther as the blood pressure was way off.”
Kit and Keeta walked into the room and the patient spotted the dog and patted her for about a minute.
“The patient’s blood pressure went to normal after petting Keeta, and was able to come almost upright,” says Kit. “Our dogs really do so much for everyone including ourselves.”
Paws on campus
Want proof that interacting with dogs reduces stress? Ask Joe Yazvac, PhD, at Keene State College. He’ll report that it certainly helped students at the college.
The college and Monadnock Therapy Pets partnered up to create Paws 2 Play, a regular opportunity to bring therapy dogs to campus throughout the semester.
“Research has shown that spending time with pets has multiple benefits for people’s well-being,” says Yazvac. Simply being with or petting animals, he says, can decrease stress by creating a sense of calm, ease depression, and improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and boosting immune systems.
Keene State College students involved in Paws 2 Play report that the dogs help them feel more connected to the campus and that they feel less homesick, improving their adjustment to college life.
Of the 840 students who attended Paws 2 Play in one semester, 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it helped them feel more connected; it also decreased their stress by 3.5 points on a 10-point scale.
Connections matter. Our health is better for it and perhaps our pets can help. For many people, interacting with an animal or owning a pet might just be an important path to getting – and staying — healthy.