For­ever Friends

Pets play a sur­pris­ing role at Hope Health­Care Ser­vices

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY KLAU­DIA BALOGH

When a pa­tient wasn’t re­spond­ing to ques­tions and didn’t even want to open her eyes, health care staff strug­gled for an­swers. But the day a Hope Health­Care Ser­vices volunteer brought her Bella to visit, things changed. “When Bella [a shih tzu puppy] was lifted into the pa­tient’s lap, the woman opened her eyes, gave a huge smile and told Bella she was a very cute dog,” says Amy Objartel, di­rec­tor of mis­sions sup­port for Hope Health­Care Ser­vices in Fort My­ers. “Ev­ery­one was near tears.”

Bella is one of many pets bring­ing joy and mean­ing to Hope Hospice Houses and to Hope pa­tients re­sid­ing in as­sisted liv­ing or se­nior nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Objartel shares an­other story of a pa­tient suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia who had be­come afraid of his bed­room and re­fused to go to bed―un­til his dog, Rebel, helped him over­come the fear. “Rebel walked into the room and jumped onto the bed,” she says. “Our pa­tient smiled and said, ‘I guess it’s OK, then’ and fol­lowed Rebel’s lead.”

Th­ese four-legged friends are part of the suc­cess­ful Hope Hospice Pet Pro­gram that cre­ates and main­tains an in­ti­mate and fun con­nec­tion be­tween pa­tients and do­mes­tic pets. The pro­gram started in the 1980s, when, Objartel says, vol­un­teers helped pet own­ers with care such as dog walking, chang­ing lit­ter and play­time. Vol­un­teers were soon tak­ing com­pan­ions such as Bella to visit pa­tients, adding joy to ev­ery­one’s life.

Over time, as pets have be­come part of the fam­ily at Hope Hospice, staff learned that pet vis­its aren’t the only way to help―the costs of main­tain­ing a pet can mount. “We learned that fi­nan­cial lim­i­ta­tions caused some pa­tients to sac­ri­fice their

own meals to feed their an­i­mals, and we knew we had to pro­vide pet food to those most in need," Objartel says. She notes they they also be­gan pro­vid­ing pet flea preven­tion and vet ser­vices for those who couldn’t af­ford it.

Sci­ence is one rea­son Hope Health­Care Ser­vices has in­volved pets in many as­pects of a pa­tient’s life. Ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and Other De­men­tias, nurs­ing home res­i­dents with de­men­tia showed a sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in ag­i­ta­tion and an in­crease in so­cial in­ter­ac­tion af­ter weeks of pet ther­apy. An­other study by the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion in 2005 demon­strated that ther­apy dog vis­its im­proved heart and lung func­tions by de­creas­ing anx­i­ety among pa­tients with heart fail­ure. “Be­yond the med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, we’ve had first-hand ev­i­dence of the ben­e­fits of pets for those in our care,” Objartel says.

Cau­tion is part of the pro­gram, how­ever. Prior to vis­its, an an­i­mal be­hav­ior­ist looks at each pet to make sure it’s well­be­haved, clean, friendly and doesn’t get star­tled eas­ily by un­usual sit­u­a­tions or sounds. The fa­cil­ity al­lows fam­ily pet vis­its to last for hours at a time, Objartel says, as long as they are ac­com­pa­nied by a fam­ily mem­ber or friend.

The sud­den de­par­ture of com­pan­ion­ship also af­fects pets,

PETS PRO­VIDE UN­CON­DI­TIONAL LOVE AND GREAT COM­FORT, WHICH IS WHAT WE WANT FOR EV­ERY­ONE IN OUR CARE.”

—AMY OBJARTEL, DI­REC­TOR OF MIS­SIONS SUP­PORT FOR HOPE HEALTH­CARE SER­VICES

miss­ing their own­ers just as much as own­ers miss them. And some­times it’s the pets that are be­ing left at home alone, when own­ers leave for as­sisted liv­ing or se­nior nurs­ing fa­cil­i­ties and can’t care for them any­more. Hope Health­Care Ser­vices doesn’t ne­glect that sit­u­a­tion. Pro­gram vol­un­teers go to pa­tient homes to ex­er­cise and play with com­pan­ion pets, de­liver food and take them to vet­eri­nary and groom­ing ap­point­ments. Fur­ther­more, staff and vol­un­teers also find a new home for pets in cases when a pa­tient is no longer able or dies and there is no fam­ily to take over own­er­ship.

Pets aren’t only four-legged furry an­i­mals we keep around for good com­pany, but over the years, they have be­come our best friends and fam­ily we don’t wish to live with­out. Pets are great lis­ten­ers, and they are there no mat­ter how tough days get. Know­ing how strong and im­por­tant the pa­tient-pet con­nec­tion is, Hope Health­Care Ser­vices finds sev­eral ways to cher­ish that re­la­tion­ship. “Pets pro­vide un­con­di­tional love and great com­fort, which is what we want for ev­ery­one in our care,” Objartel says. “Hope will do all that we can to keep pets and their peo­ple to­gether― es­pe­cially at a time when it mat­ters most.”

SCI­ENCE IS ONE REA­SON HOPE HEALTH­CARE SER­VICES HAS IN­VOLVED PETS IN MANY AS­PECTS OF A PA­TIENT’S LIFE.

Lois Bar­rett (right) wel­comes Loretta Bar­to­letti and her pet at Joanne's House in Bonita.

Aneysha (left) and Shanelles Vasquez say hello to Tally, a Cly­des­dale. Romeo (top right) is a kid fa­vorite. Pet vis­i­tor Sami (be­low right) and Hope staffer Gerry Louima brighten Ann Brown's day.

Christo­pher Waver­shak (above) greets Missy, a golden retriever. Hope pet Lucky is Ian Brent's new best friend. Hope's pet part­ner­ship started in the 1980s.

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