The Witherell Has Gone to the Dogs (and Cats and Birds)!

We all remember our first pet. Even as we age, memories of our childhood pets remain, long after dates, places, and faces fade from recall. For residents at the Nathaniel Witherell, those fond connections to companionship are renewed often through the Witherell’s Pet Therapy Program.

The Witherell has always been a place where pets are welcome. In fact, a visit to our Executive Director’s office includes a warm greeting by Merry, the office pug. But, over the last several years, the Witherell has authored a robust pet therapy program that includes regular visits from pet/owner therapy teams, the introduction of robotic pets, and our quarterly Pooches on Parade event.

Our next Pooches on Parade event will occur on Saturday, October 27th at 2 pm in our newly renovated Auditorium. Joining us this year will be about 10 pet/owner teams. In the spirit of Halloween, both dogs and owners will be wearing costumes and residents will enjoy Halloween themed treats.

“The Halloween Pooches on Parade is such a wonderful celebration of the dogs and their owners who volunteer their time to enhance the quality of life at the Witherell,” notes Carissa Ronish, Recreation Coordinator at the Witherell.

While our pet-centric activities are fun for all, they’re also important therapeutic tools in caring for the elderly. A recent study published in The Journal of Nursing Education and Practice concluded what many in the industry already knew—pet interactions result in “increased positive social behaviors” for those with dementia.

“Beyond the happiness and social connection pets offer to the elderly, we find Pet Therapy to be especially beneficial for our residents who suffer from dementia related illnesses, Alzheimer’s, or other conditions that impact communication,” says Ms. Ronish.

In addition to weekly pet therapy visits, residents in our Memory Care Unit have ongoing access to several robotic cats. The cats approximate real cat behavior and can move, purr, and respond to touch. They are used to help calm residents when they are agitated or confused, plus they’re ready companions that can be brought to resident rooms whenever needed.

In addition to our dogs and robotic cats, the Witherell has real cat/owner teams. For our resident bird watchers, we have a pet bird in our solarium. Four-legged and winged friends are a big part of life at the Witherell. Not only are they a unique aspect of our person-centered care approach; they’re a constant source of companionship and joy for our residents.

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