Beaudry the dog a dose of good medicine
It’s the time of day that Beaudry the black Labrador retriever looks forward to most.
“Release!” says his owner Helen Vanderhoof, and with that, Beaudry’s tail begins to wag and he bounces off down the hall of Grass Valley’s Golden Empire Convalescent Hospital.
As a working companion dog, Beaudry’s daily routine includes visiting with many of the hospital’s 148 elderly residents, most of whom can no longer live at home and are in need of skilled nursing.
Making his rounds, Beaudry is tuned in to each resident’s needs and wishes. For example, he knows that resident Barbara Klingler doesn’t like him to bark too loudly at her bedside, so when she asks him to “speak,” he lets out a soft bark.
“I taught him to whisper-bark,” said Klingler, who once owned four golden retrievers. “He does a lot of people a lot of good – people here just love reaching out to touch him.”
Next Beaudry heads down the hall to visit with Ray and Alberta Glissman, a dog-loving couple in their 90s.
“He rolls over when he sees me because he knows I like to rub his tummy,” said Ray. “We just love Beaudry – everybody does.”
Across the hall is Joann Billeiu, who is known for doling out doggie treats.
“”He does a lot for people when they’re feeling down and out,” she said.
One woman who is bedridden loves it when Beaudry gently jumps up on her bed so say hello – the highlight of her day, said Vanderhoof. When it comes to those with dementia, Beaudry will gently rest his head on their lap. Others simply ask him to “sit” or “shake.”
More than a decade ago, Vanderhoof – Golden Empire’s activities director – went to a conference where she learned about the value of pet therapy. She contacted Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa and was put on a waiting list for a “facility dog,” which are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education settings. A full year later, she got a phone call.
“I went down to Santa Rosa and spent two weeks working with various dogs before they decided which would be the right one,” said Vanderhoof. “Puppies are trained from the beginning to be working dogs, and only 30 percent in the program pass. Beaudry turned out to be the right one for us.”
Beaudry has now spent nine years at Golden Empire and never fails to cheer up residents, said Vanderhoof. Not only can he pick up items people drop, such as glasses, he also delivers mail and brings birthday balloons to residents.
“He knows 42 commands,” said Vanderhoof. “If I lock myself out of my office he can push the door open from the inside and let me in. All I have to say is, ‘Push!'”
While the benefits of “therapy dogs” have mostly been anecdotal, a 2002 study on nursing home patients adds some scientific support to the theory.
In an issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, a study by researchers at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Louis and Saint Louis University School of Medicine showed that even as little as a half-hour a week visit with a therapy dog revealed “significantly less loneliness” in patients after just six weeks when compared with a control group. Researcher William A. Banks explained that it’s a “quality of life issue. It’s about giving people access to what they like and enjoy.”
At age 11, Beaudry appears to know what it’s like to get old, too.
Unlike past years, he’s now required to be get annual certification through Canine Companions, said Vanderhoof, and his working days are numbered.
“Beaudry is good medicine, but he’s 77 in human years,” said resident Richard Kurtz. “Some days he probably feels like I do. I have to confess I probably give him more cookies than I should.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.
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