CICOA is bringing out the dogs

POSTED: October 9, 2017

When Darlene Gosnell walks into a room, eyes light up. It’s not Gosnell people are looking at, though, it’s one of her terriers. Gosnell is founder of Therapets of Indiana, which offers animal-assisted therapy in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and homes. She’s seen how people who are lonely are cheered up by a pet, how someone in hospice is comforted by a trained therapy dog, and she knows first-hand how a pet can help someone with a traumatic brain injury.

Beginning this fall, CICOA will pilot a program with Therapets of Indiana and offer animal-assisted therapy to homebound clients.

“It’s a way to further the CICOA mission,” said Dustin Ziegler, CICOA’s director of community programs. “We wanted to do more to expand the services we provide to our clients that will help improve their quality of life.”

Care managers, who meet regularly with clients, will begin talking to homebound clients to see if they would like regular visits from Fergus or Lucy, or one of the other 24 dogs, who have been specially trained to provide therapy to individuals.

Trained volunteers will be with the dog for visits, where someone may be comforted to play with a dog, or may want a dog they can hold. Therapets of Indiana trains dogs to assist in physical therapy, where a patient may benefit from throwing a ball to a dog or brushing a dog.

Gosnell shares a story of how one of her dogs helped a patient in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. He hadn’t spoken in more than 18 months, when the nursing home decided to try animal-assisted therapy.

“They were in the activity room, and we had no more than entered the room, and this client immediately put his hand out, and said, ‘Baby, my Baby, where have you been?’ and he started verbalizing like you would not believe,” Gosnell said.

Gosnell founded Therapets of Indiana in 2000 with one dog. Now, the nonprofit has 26 dogs, all either Cairn Terriers or West Highland White Terriers, more often known as Westies. The dogs range in size from seven pounds to 25 pounds. Some dogs are more suited to provide comfort to hospice patients, while others are more suited for visiting with those who may be depressed and lonely, or with those who want to play with the dog.

Once the therapy program begins, CICOA will begin to measure outcomes to determine whether it’s having an impact on clients. If it’s successful, Ziegler hopes it can be expanded to help even more people who have a love for pets and could benefit from this specialized therapy.

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