Posted by Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook on 03/22/2019

The Power of Pets

The Power of Pets

Combine wet noses and fuzzy paws with lonely adults or nervous children, and you have a recipe for real pleasure. Pets can often connect with people who are too ill or frail to engage with other adults. They also have been known to help children and young adults release stress and thrive in otherwise anxiety-producing situations. Put simply, pets hold enormous potential.

Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of having their own pet. In fact, many elderly people, adults with disabilities, or children cannot manage the physical or financial demands of pet ownership. Fortunately for these individuals, nonprofit organizations offer free pet therapy visits.

In the state of Maryland, Pets on Wheels provides regular visits to nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries and other facilities. Pets and their owners spend time engaging with attendees during these visits. Attendees get the chance to pet, talk to, hold and connect with animals of all species and sizes. The visits help prevent loneliness and relieve stress.

What is Pets on Wheels?

Pets on Wheels is a non-profit organization that delivers pet therapy visits throughout the state of Maryland at no charge to the recipients. Pets on Wheels is supported solely by organizational and private donations.

Pets on Wheels volunteers fight stress and help lick loneliness one visit at a time. Each year, more than 175,000 people enjoy a visit from a Pets on Wheels team. Volunteers give more than 12,000 hours of their time annually—visiting nearly 400 facilities and special events.

What is a therapy pet?

A therapy pet is an animal that provides affection and comfort to people who are lonely, depressed, ill or experiencing a stressful situation. Therapy pets typically visit individuals in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, mental health facilities, and libraries.

All pets volunteering with Pets on Wheels pass a temperament screening prior to being certified. These pets are not service animals and do not have the same access to public spaces that service animals do. Therapy pets come in all sizes, breeds and species. Any animal that passes the temperament screening may qualify. This includes dogs, cats and a variety of other animals.

What are the results of pet therapy?

Pets bring much-needed support and unconditional love to individuals in a variety of stressful or isolating situations. All of Pets on Wheels’ recipients experience simple joy when interacting with friendly pets. 

When visiting nursing homes and retirement communities, Pets on Wheels emphasizes interacting with residents who are largely unresponsive to other activities. Some of these recipients have impaired cognitive abilities due to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other recipients are unable to leave their rooms or beds due to long-term physical ailments. They are delighted when the pets come to their rooms.

People who rarely speak will frequently greet pet therapy animals by name. For some recipients, pet therapy sparks positive memories of their own long-ago pets. For others, pets are a nonjudgmental ear to confide in or read to.

In addition to the benefits of interacting with pet therapy animals, recipients are also able to form connections and relationships with human volunteers. Often, pets help to “break the ice,” allowing nursing home residents or other recipients to connect with the volunteers. After several visits, it is not unusual for residents to wait expectantly for the Pets on Wheels team to arrive.

People and pets have always been a powerful combination. Even as physical and mental abilities decline, the connection to pets remains. Pets hold immense power and tremendous promise for seniors and people of all ages.


For more information, visit www.petsonwheels.org.


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