Pet therapy volunteers help transform lives

Courtesy photo Some of HHHC’S pet therapy teams (clockwise from top center): Bucky and Nutmeg, Audrey, Autumn, Ruby, Wrigley, Dr. Watson and Scout.

MERRIMACK – On the afternoon of April 26, the conference room at Home Health & Hospice Care, often filled with nurses and therapists during weekly meetings, was instead bustling with pricked ears and wagging tails. As part of several events for National Volunteer Week, the much-loved pet therapy teams at HHHC held a meet and greet so everyone could experience the restorative and calming effects of pets.

Pet assisted-activities have been taking place for many years in hospitals and retirement homes. Medical studies have shown that stroking a dog has a calming effect that can lower blood pressure and ease tension. Pet visits allow relaxed interaction between the pet and patient, without specific treatment goals aside from the unconditional acceptance the pet offers.

Therapy animals must be certified, be insured and have a current shot record and clean bill of health while their handlers must attend 33 hours of hospice volunteer training, undergo a criminal background check and take a two-step tuberculosis test. HHHC is proud to partner with Pet Partners who provide training and evaluations necessary to visit medical facilities.

HHHC has over 20 pet therapy teams that commit themselves to regular weekly visits to hospice patients in the Community Hospice House and in nursing homes. Pets also complement the organization’s bereavement programs – particularly with children grieving a loss. The visiting pets come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny lap dogs to the newest and largest pet pals, two mini horses. Some will do tricks, while others will curl up on the bed. Some have soft fur, and some have wiry hair, but the one thing they all share is the ability to bring comfort and joy to those that need it most.