The residents in Prospect Park Residence’s Essentia® program look forward to some very special visitors nearly every week, when therapy dogs from The Good Dog Foundation come to spend time with them. Essentia® is the senior living community’s memory-impairment program, which provides a therapeutic environment and full complement of activities for older adults with memory challenges. The small dogs come to perform tricks and spend some time bonding with the residents for one hour every other Thursday and three Saturdays a month.
The Good Dog Foundation is based in Brooklyn, not far from Prospect Park Residence, an elegant full-service senior community in Park Slope; its certified dog-and-owner teams make therapy visits to communities, hospitals and nursing homes throughout all five New York City boroughs.
“Our residents look forward to the visits and enjoy the interaction with the dogs,” noted Essentia® Program Coordinator Olga De La Cruz. Essentia® is a secure floor within Prospect Park Residence; the support and assistance provided by its specially trained staff members focus on helping residents maintain a more engaged and active lifestyle. The social, personal and recreational activities on the Essentia® floor are tailored to meet the needs of each individual resident.
De La Cruz explained that the touch and warmth of the dogs can be very therapeutic and is an important part of the comprehensive Essentia® program. “Many of our residents had pets in the past and they enjoy petting and talking to the dogs. Other residents who were once afraid of dogs have opened up and now play with them. In fact, some people who are normally very quiet or withdrawn become more open and converse with the dogs. Their attitudes become more positive,” De La Cruz added.
The Good Dog Foundation’s furry friends play fetch and do tricks, sit on residents’ laps, and enjoy the belly rubs and treats they receive from the residents. De La Cruz added that the dogs seem to sense how the residents are feeling and know just how to behave or what to do with certain people. “Some of the dogs know to simply lie down next to someone and get their heads scratched while others do tricks such as ‘shake hands’ or ‘roll over.’ Each visit is different but they all have very positive effects for our residents.”
Claire Cario, executive coordinator and trainer for the Brooklyn/Queens region of The Good Dog Foundation, agrees that the animals provide many positive benefits to the Essentia® residents. “There are psychological as well as physiological benefits associated with pet therapy,” Cario said. “These canine visits enhance residents’ daily lives by giving them something new to look forward to and to talk about, and they often spark memories of childhood pets that the residents share with others.”
The partnership between Prospect Park Residence and The Good Dog Foundation goes beyond pet therapy visits. Prospect Park is the host site for the organization’s annual dog fashion show. The dogs come in costume and residents judge them in categories such as Best Original Costume, Friendliest, Most Charming and Resident Favorite. The next fashion show is tentatively scheduled for early October 2010.