Before the United States was in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, an assisted living home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, received regular visits from therapy dog Baby. She has been visiting the home, Island City, for six years, and her visits were something that residents really looked forward to. One of the first actions that was taken to protect residents in homes such as these from Covid-19 was to prevent people being able to visit. This also meant that Baby’s visits had to come to an end. This is something that the residents were unhappy about. After they had not seen her for about a month, they started to ask the staff at the home when she would be able to come back. It was down to the director of activities, Kelly Klassen, to break the news that it was likely to be some time before it was considered safe enough for Baby to return.
Pat Ward, Baby’s owner who accompanied her on her visits, could also see how much Baby was missing the residents. She began to think about ways in which visits could resume, while still keeping everyone safe. Ward told the Washington Post, that she knew she had to do something to try and get the visits started up again as soon as possible. This was something that was also encouraged by the staff. Ward realized that even though Baby couldn’t go into the facility, she could still take her around the perimeter of the building so that the residents could see her out of the windows of their rooms. If the residents want to open their windows and talk to Baby, Ward will step back so that social distancing is still adhered to. She also wears a mask whenever she visits.
When Ward visits the home with Baby, she often finds that some of the residents are already waiting at the window. Her visits are scheduled on the events calendar so everyone knows when to expect her. If the weather is bad, then the visits may have to be rearranged, but they try to keep to the agreed timetable as much as possible. The residents are not able to stroke Baby, but they can still talk to her out of their windows, and this seems to have a positive impact on their mood. Ward pets Baby as they are talking to her so that she also feels as if she is getting some attention.
It was important to the staff at Island City that the residents still got to see Baby in some way. Stephanie Hall, director of Human Resources, explained to MSN just why Baby is so important to everyone in the home. She gets involved in all the celebrations that they have, becoming an elf at Christmas and St. Valentine for the Valentine’s Day party. Even though celebrations like this will not be happening for some time, just being able to see Baby at all is making everyone at the home really happy.
The pandemic has been difficult for everyone involved with Island City. The staff are worried about their own health, and that of the residents. It has also meant that nearly every aspect of daily life now looks a little different. Even though Baby can no longer go into the building, the fact that residents are able to still see her brings them a little bit of normality. They are allowed to see their families through the windows as well as long as social distancing is adhered to. Some activities still do take place inside the home, but this is mainly done in the residents’ rooms.
One of the reasons why Baby makes such a good therapy dog is that she has several health issues of her own. She is blind and also has problems with her hearing. She has some problems with her heart and has also successfully fought cancer. She never lets her health issues get her down, and loves the attention that she gets from the residents. Ward believes that Baby was born to be a therapy dog, and this is something that everyone at Island City would agree with.
Ward became interested in working with therapy dogs when she used to visit a friend who lived in an assisting living facility. There was a dog that visited residents there, and she could see what a positive impact these visits had on everyone. She used to watch the face of her friend, and the other residents whenever the dog visited, and all of their faces used to light up whenever the dog was near. She also noticed that the residents all used to refer to the dog as Baby because she was female, and so when she first got Baby, she named her with her future work in mind.
According to Golden Carers, there are many benefits to introducing therapy dogs to people in assisted living settings. Dogs can help combat feelings of loneliness that residents may feel. They can instill a sense of purpose in the residents and this may help to boost their activity levels. Regular visits from pets can also reduce stress and alleviate depression. These benefits are important to older people at all times, but even more so at the moment when everything is so different from the routines that they are used to.
The steps that Island City has taken to protect its residents certainly seem to have paid off. They stopped allowing visitors in on 11 March, and to date there have been no cases of coronavirus at the home. In order to keep the residents protected, the policy of restricting visitors to the home is something that is likely to continue in the near future. However, Baby will still continue with her visits to the windows of the residents until the time that she is able to visit them indoors. The day that they are all able to give her a real cuddle is something that everyone is looking forward to.