Pet therapy assisted living

There’s a ‘Pawsitive’ Story Unfolding at Willow Towers

November 23

You may have noticed a sweet, furry face strolling the common areas at Willow Towers Assisted Living. She’s small, fluffy, and she makes people happy.

She’s Serene, a 10-year-old mixed-breed rescue and certified pet-therapy dog.

Serene always has a friendly paw to offer whomever she encounters. At just 8 pounds, she is small enough to fit onto most laps. While she may be slight in size, Serene has made a big impact on the residents of our Willow Towers Assisted Living community.

“She’s very special to me,” explains Jane Greenfield, who moved to our Willow Towers Assisted Living community in January, 2021.

Jane Greenfield and Serene

“I had a small cocker spaniel when I was a child, and Serene reminds me of her and brings back memories for me. I see Serene almost every day, and she gets to my heart right away. She makes me very happy.”

Serene has undergone rigorous training to become a certified pet therapy dog, according to her owner, Deborah King, director of activities and volunteers at Willow Towers. Serene trained and is certified as an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen and she attended training programs at the Port Chester Kennel Club, Canine Kindergarten, and Montefiore Hospital. Most recently, Serene and Deborah became re-certified as a “Pet Partner” therapy team.

Comfort, Companionship, and Memories

Throughout the United States, pet therapy has been an increasingly popular way to promote the health and well-being of seniors. And here in Westchester, across United Hebrew’s campus, animal-assisted therapy has long been employed as a way to bring comfort and companionship to our residents.

Interacting with pet therapy dogs has also been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and relieve anxiety. For seniors with dementia, visits with a therapy dog can be soothing and trigger-happy memories.

“Research shows that pet therapy offers physical, cognitive and emotional benefits,” notes Deborah. “It takes people some time to develop a bond with another person. But with pets, that bond can happen  almost instantaneously. In healthcare settings, people have a lot of physical contact with others but it’s not always intimate. Pets offer immediate bonding and physical comfort. And we see that with our residents, who love to hold and hug Serene.”

When COVID-19 prevented her son and daughter from seeing her in person, Jane’s loneliness was eased by Serene.  Recalls Jane, “we all fawned over Serene. If I was  petting her and someone else began paying attention to her, it was a way for me to meet them. She helped me get to know other people here at Willow Towers.”

United Hebrew offers pet therapy as part of its robust therapeutic activity program, which also includes music, art, and movement therapy, as well as an array of social, cultural, recreational and fitness programs.

Serene and Deborah have been working as a pet therapy team for nearly 10 years.

“I feel that she gets what she gives,”  Deborah explains. “Serene is so loving and trusting and the residents treat her with love and kindness. I’m so proud of her and the relationships she has with people very rewarding. It’s easy to form a bond with her. “