The Views resident Margaret Rickner with Joey the Cat. Photo supplied

Live-in pets soothe, nurture residents at Comox care home

With human caregiver visits having limits on them at most long-term care homes due to COVID-19 precautions, the pets who live at The Views – the future site of BC’s first publicly funded dementia village – are a wonderful source of comfort and companionship for residents.

The company of pets, after all, embodies the dementia village philosophy of care, which is already being embraced by The Views in Comox as it prepares for the transition to the new dementia village bricks and mortar in four years’ time. This same philosophy of care will be applied to a second dementia village planned for Heather Street in Vancouver, and pets will likely be part of that campus as well.

The Views is home to three cats (Marsha, Wednesday and Joey), countless fish, four birds (Perky, Pauly, Tweety and C.B.), and a Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) canine named Brunswick (Bunny for short). The latter, a gorgeous American Yellow Labrador Retriever, accompanies one of the activity staff members when she is working.

“Our pets have added a lot of comfort to combat loneliness among residents. They are also a lovely distraction if they are feeling anxious or depressed,” said Jane Murphy, president and CEO of Providence Living.

A caring cat in action

Last month, a female resident in her late 90s with dementia and no local family to make window visits was declining rapidly, crying all the time and not eating. Joey the cat repeatedly went into her room and lay on the bed quietly with her. The resident smiled and rested comfortably, and eventually resumed drinking fluids. Joey appeared to sense she was distressed and gravitated toward her to soothe and comfort – something that happens quite often with the live-in pets.

Pets as most valuable players (MVPs)

Abundant clinical evidence points to the benefits of pets in caring for seniors, including dementia patients. Not only can pets reduce anxiety and agitation among residents, they can also lower blood pressure, raise endorphin levels, improve cardiovascular health, and boost appetite.

When residents aren’t well, pets will go and lie with them and make true connections, including with those who are dying.

Another example of the value of live-in pets involves residents who have had pets and have missed the ability to care for them. They are now able to groom and feed them, and assist with straightening up bird cages and cleaning mirrors. Residents express their enjoyment of this, both in their words and smiles when participating in these routines. Engaging in pet care has given them a renewed sense of purpose.

“Having the live-in pets is so important. They are non-judgmental beings offering a different kind of affection,” added Murphy.

The happy tale of Bunny and Roy

Prior to COVID-19 when a resident named Roy, a great dog lover, came to live at The Views, he always looked for Bunny whenever she came in to work for the day. Bunny automatically went to Roy every morning to greet him. Roy was able to groom Bunny, take her for walks in the company of her handler, and sit with her on the bus every time they went out together for a ride. They developed a great friendship. As Roy’s dementia progressed, Bunny went on this journey with him. She was able to provide unconditional love and companionship throughout the disease process.

A legacy of pawsitive pet experiences

Pets have been part of The Views for a decade and a half since the arrival of the first PADS dog, an English Black Labrador Retriever named Haley. Haley demonstrated to staff at The Views that pets on campus were hugely beneficial for residents by giving comfort and easing loneliness. Since then, both live-in pets and visitation pets have been a big part of The Views’ landscape.

In pre-COVID times, The Views has played host to visiting kittens, lambs, goats and horses. The care home also annually presents “Dog Days of Summer” events where staff can bring in their dogs for an afternoon. The canines take part in a parade and contests for various categories, such as best dressed dog and dog who looks most like the owner. Since COVID, family members have been able to bring by pets for outside window visits, proving it’s not only residents who experience the benefits – family members say their pet visits have made them feel better, too.

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