Highlighting ESC’s Wellness Partners: Friendly Pet Visits

Mary, ESC resident, visits with Nissa
Mary, ESC resident, visits with Nissa

There is plenty of research that points to the benefits of human and pet interactions. It’s been known to lower blood pressure and pulse rate, decrease visits to the doctor, lessen depression, and ease loneliness. Carol Rossini discovered the positive effects when she took her dog, Nissa, to the hospital to visit her ill husband. Nissa cuddled with him in the bed, and they were overjoyed to see each other again. Her husband’s joy that day made her realize the impact Nissa could have on other people.

Two years later, Carol began bringing Nissa with her to visit people. Each time, Nissa was excited to walk into the facility and into someone’s room, but she calmed down quickly as people would pet her, watch her do tricks and reminisce about their dogs. This led to Carol enrolling Nissa in therapy dog training. Nissa had to greet strangers, not react to strange dogs, walk through a group of people who were using wheelchairs or walkers, and recover quickly after hearing loud noises. Carol was trained to pay attention to Nissa, keep her under control, and gauge her reactions, all while carrying on a conversation and being sociable.

Once Nissa became certified as a therapy pet, Carol continued visiting people from church and searching out volunteer opportunities. During her search, Carol found Eaton Senior Communities and was impressed with Eaton’s cheerfulness, cleanliness and friendliness. Carol found it a good match so she and Nissa began to visit Eaton. On one particular occasion, a resident sat down right next to Carol on the couch even though other chairs were available. She looked at Nissa and quietly said “Shake?” Nissa put up her paw and a big grin broke out on the woman’s face. As Carol has gotten to know other residents, they also enjoy making Nissa do tricks and then rewarding her with Milk Bones when she gets them right. Conversation with residents includes talking to people about their dogs, about their years growing up, their families, their favorite foods and music and books, their crafts, or just about anything else – all because Carol has a dog to break the ice.

The Eaton staff have even benefited from Carol and Nissa’s visits, with staff stocking dog treats in their offices as an excuse to have their own pet therapy visits. This led to Carol developing relationships with staff and an invitation for Carol to join Eaton’s Caring Connection team, which entails Carol visiting Eaton residents in-house and out in the community in rehab centers, hospitals, etc.

Carol says, “What do therapy dogs do? They make connections between people, show their love, calm, and entertain. Nissa’s and my lives without Eaton would be far less rich without all the many wonderful people there. My initial impression of its being a wonderful place hasn’t dimmed at all during the year and a half that we have been visiting, and I consider it a privilege to be part of the Eaton community.”