April 27, 2020
There is nothing like a big smooch, gentle touch or a wet nose nuzzle with a happy dog.
But social distancing rules, due to the impact of COVID-19, has created a barrier between those in need of canine therapy visits and those special pups that can give them a little TLC.
About 120 volunteer certified pet therapy teams, consisting of a dog and its human, help children and adults by achieving specific physical, cognitive, social or emotional goals through interaction. The organization impacts about 300,000 people annually from events such as presentations and informational booths, workplace and facility visits and individual engagements. An otherwise nonverbal senior talks during puppy time, with a paw in hand. A child’s reading skills improve as the dog lays or sits to listen attentively. A stressed individual’s blood pressure lowers as he or she gently pets or strokes the canine.
Trzcinski’s team of staff and volunteers brainstormed for a solution. That’s when a new window of opportunity was realized. To build morale in the workplace, a pup can be the top dog at a business Zoom meeting. A child can read to a dog on FaceTime. During a linkup, a resident at an assisted living facility reaches out for the pup at a window.
Virtual visits take some camera creativity, said volunteer Jahmila Boswell, who, with her 4-year-old Great Dane Dalis, have been making in-person calls to schools and facilities until “it all came to a halting stop.”
“Right now, there are no parades through hospital halls, there’s no Therapy Dog Thursdays,” she said.
But there is technology.
“I have her focus on me but I reverse the camera,” Boswell said. “She’ll give a paw and roll over. The client was holding out her hand, smiling and reaching for Dalis’ paw.”
Like many South Floridians, Karen Mizrachi, a mother of three children, the oldest in third grade, is faced with additional at-home school duties. Looking to boost morale, she arranged a virtual reading visit with therapy dog Jessie for her son Sam, who is in first grade.
“Sam already knew Jessie from the therapy dog’s weekly visits to his kindergarten class last year,” Mizrachi said.
Holly Rosenberg, engagement director at YourLife of Coconut Creek Memory Care, said the residents, viewing a large-screen television, responded to the Zoom connection to canine therapy dogs.
“It worked well for us. The dogs did tricks, one even balanced a biscuit on his nose,” she said.
As for the learning curve to master a variety of social media platforms, “it’s getting easier,” Rosenberg said. “We’ve certainly been doing a lot of that lately so our residents can connect with their loved ones.”
Window visits are a thing too.
Boswell and Dalis made a recent facility visit in which the dog made eye contact through the front glass doors with residents inside.