Pawsing to smile IS good for the soul

3043-1487.jpgPawsing to smile good for the soul
By Sabrina Byrnes, Oakville Beaver

Seniors at Oakville’s Post Inn Village Long-term Care Facility are “pawsing” to smile thanks to some friendly dogs and cats — and Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC). Smiles, laughs and just plain old-fashioned relaxation are just a few benefits of the pet therapy program. TPOC is a national program that has recently come to Oakville thanks to team leader Anthony Simpkins. The folks at Post Inn Village are the first in town to try it on for size.

TPOC is a volunteer therapy dog and cat visitation program geared to benefit seniors living in nursing and retirement homes. It can also occur at other facilities where there is a need. It has long been known that petting and stroking an animal can calm and soothe a person — there’s even evidence of a faster recovery from surgery for patients who have ongoing contact with a pet.

One of the major components of TPOC is simply a visit with the seniors. Simpkins’ aim is to simply make the seniors smile. “Our goal is to put a smile on someone’s face,” said Simpkins. “We just try to bring a little happiness back into somebody’s life who’s helped everybody else out.”

The volunteer program that started in Oakville six months ago needs volunteers — and their pets — so that TPOC can branch out to as many local nursing homes as possible. “We’ve had several requests from different homes. We can’t fill those requests yet, that’s why we’re trying to get more dogs,” Simpkins said.

Currently there are two dogs in the program. One is Simpkins’ own dog, Parker, a golden retriever, and the other dog is a shitsu.

Volunteer pet owners must commit to providing one hour a week and according to Simpkins, the experience is rewarding. “It’s so hard to describe. I mean I was a little apprehensive at first, but once you see a dog and a senior together, a senior that doesn’t get out and about that much, the experience alone … seeing their face light up when the dogs come in and spending time with them,” said Simpkins. “They may not get a visitor for a week, two weeks, or they may have had a visitor five minutes ago and forgot about them,” he said.

Seniors often bond with the pets and then really begin to look forward to the visits by Simpkins and Parker. Simpkins described a couple of incidents when a senior was not very coherent, but when Parker took over the visit, the senior became much more responsive.

“They actually began doing some finger movements,” he said. “Trying to lift their arms, making sounds, things that they haven’t done in an awful long time.”