PEABODY — Louie gave a shake of his chocolate curls and plopped on the couch beside Cynthia Turover, his companion of almost 13 years. At about 90 people years old, Louie does not look or act his age.
Louie is a poodle-mix and certified therapy dog, and he and Turover volunteer regularly as a pet therapy team through Care Dimensions (formerly Hospice of the North Shore & Greater Boston).
Care Dimensions offers many Complementary Therapy programs. Through their Pet Therapy program, trained pets and their owners provide animal companionship for patients and their families and caregivers, visiting them at home, in hospitals, at assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities and the Kaplan Family Hospice House.
An elementary and middle school teacher for 35 years, Turover said she always had a lot of respect for hospice and the work the group does. She recognized a special quality in Louie, who came to her as a rescued stray, and the two of them trained at D.O.G.B.O.N.E.S., a certified pet therapy program. They started volunteering nine years ago at the Kaplan Family Hospice House and with other dog-loving patients. “Louie was definitely meant to be doing this,” she said.
Louie and Turover were scheduled to visit patients at Aviv Centers for Living in Peabody. Amy Ouellette, Care Dimensions Marketing Associate, described the benefits of the program.
“Pets can provide a source of comfort and unconditional love for people, especially if they are feeling lonely, anxious or depressed. It is amazing to see the power dogs can have over a patient’s mood when the patient is receptive to it,” she said.
Care Dimension’s website describes pet therapy as a non-invasive, holistic practice that can serve as an addition to the hospice plan of care to enrich the patient’s well-being. The company also offers massage therapy, aromatherapy, art & music therapy, Reiki and music at the bedside services.
In 2013, the company provided 497 pet therapy sessions. At the Kaplan House, in particular, pets can have a positive effect on family members visiting or sitting vigil with loved ones as they receive specialized end of life care. A pet visit breaks up the day and encourages conversation and engagement.
Turover couldn’t agree more. “Even patients who aren’t verbal respond to Louie. They remember their own pet. You can tell something is happening even if they don’t verbalize it.”
Aviv resident Yolanda Moscaritolo is 93 years old. She beams as Louie enters her room and pouts when she is told he is not allowed to share her breakfast muffin, a corner of which she was hoping to surreptitiously sneak to him. “Hi,” she called out to Louie, smiling broadly, “how are ya?”
Asked if she had a dog, Yolanda quipped, “I had children.” Ten minutes later, she blew Louie a kiss as he headed off to visit his next patient. “He made my day,” she said with a tear in her eye.
As Louie entered her room, Janet Weiss, 88, sat up and smiled. Although a self-described “cat person,” she stroked his soft hair and scratched him behind the ears.
Marjorie Patkin of Swampscott, Janet’s daughter, has nothing but praise for the pet therapy program. “As our loved ones age, unconditional love and nurturing relationships — whether with humans or animals — become so important. Knowing the joy that visits from this little dog brought to my mom was better than any brisket meal I could bring her! The smile on her face after the visit with Louie was priceless.”
For more information about hospice services, including Complementary Pet Therapy, visit CareDimensions.org or call 978-774-7566.