Alzheimer's and Pet Therapy

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We have a new member of the family…a dog, that is. But this happy news came at the sadness of having to put down Zasu, my parents’ 15-year-old dog who at one point had been considered Mom’s dog. The whole process of adopting a new dog has provided some real lessons related to caregiving.

    Once she went into the nursing home, Mom and Zasu grew distant. Mom no longer knew how to pet Zasu, and Zasu seemed to forget Mom since she didn’t see Mom on a daily basis. Temperament-wise, Zasu was not a great guest at the nursing home since she tended to bark at everyone. So we only took Zasu to visit Mom once, where she scared the staff by her loud barking. Instead, I started opting to take my dog, Zoe, who is much more at home in a variety of circumstances and who has a calming influence. Furthermore, it seemed logical for Zasu to provide companionship to Dad in West Texas as he worked at sorting through my parents’ stuff and selling the house. So Zasu lived away from Mom for almost a year, before Dad and Zasu moved here in October.
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    Over the holidays, Zasu physically declined at a very rapid pace. Upon her demise, Dad wondered whether we should tell Mom. I thought about it and replied that I didn’t think this particular information would help Mom. Telling Mom could potentially lead to an emotional outburst, which was unneeded since, for the most part, Mom had forgotten about the dog. Plus, Mom would forget the news soon after we told her, so potentially we’d be living in a situation similar to the movie, “Groundhog’s Day” (albeit with a sadder plot line). Dad agreed with my logic.

    The next decision point related to caregiving came about when we debated whether my father should adopt a new dog. Some folks questioned whether he should get a new dog, but I really encouraged Dad to do this. Being a caregiver brings a lot of stress; having the friendly greeting and cheerful presence of a dog can help ease some of the tension that goes with the bad days one experiences when one has a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s very easy to become depressed when one is providing care; a dog (or another pet) can help brighten each day.

    Once Dad made the decision to adopt, I began to search the web for canine rescue programs since Dad had read about the mission of these great organizations. The Miniature Schnauzer Rescue of Houston seemed promising. We filled out and submitted the application. After Dad’s references were checked, we heard there were two suitable dogs available. So we made the trek to Houston, where we met the two dogs. One dog, Austin, instantly stole our hearts by going up to each of us to say hello and request a petting. Dad instantly had found his new companion.

    Over two weeks have passed and Dad and his dog have become good buddies. The silver lining in this story? Last night we took Austin to meet Mom for the first time. The miniature schnauzer greeted Mom very sweetly, and she gave her approval (and wanted him to stay with her). Because of Austin’s outgoing ways, we are now thinking that he may be a welcomed presence to other residents of Mom’s nursing home, so Dad is going to introduce Austin to the activity director. And everyone has become a winner – Austin (who has a new family), Dad (who has companionship), and Mom (who has a new friendly visitor to look forward to).
Published On: February 01, 2007