• 28°

Care center welcomes a new therapy dog

NEW RICHLAND — New Richland Care Center has welcomed a four-legged assistant to its facility.

Billy, a 5-month old Lhasa apso and king cavalier spaniel terrier mix puppy, has been adopted as the care center’s therapy dog.

The dog is owned by nursing manager Ginger Mountin.

“Ginger asked about having a dog here, and I work with the dementia program,” Performance Incentive Payment Program director Sandy Hart said. “When you look at evidence-based material to see what works with dementia patients and those with other cognitive impairments, pet therapy is one of the biggest things.”

As a result, Hart told Mountin, “If you get him, he can be our therapy dog.”

The situation works out for Mountin, as well. She wanted a dog, but lives too far away to be driving back and forth to routinely let a dog outside. Under the current arrangement, Billy comes to work with her every day, Monday through Friday.

She picked the dog due to his small size and because he doesn’t shed, which would make him less prone to aggravate someone’s allergies.

“He loves to come to work,” Mountin said of the pup. “He knows when I turn the corner, and he’s just pulling to get into the building. He just loves it. You say, ‘Go to work,’ and he goes to my office.

“It’s like this is his purpose,” she said. “He’s a totally different dog at home.”

Billy stays in Mountin’s office throughout the day unless a volunteer or staff member takes him out to see residents. She said it is her goal that Billy will eventually be able to roam the facility off-leash, to visit residents at his leisure and to provide comfort and company to those who perhaps had a bad day or night and may be in the final stages of passing on.

He will have to learn his boundaries, though. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not allowed in areas where food is served, and he cannot be in the nurse’s station area. He will also need additional training. He has completed his first puppy classes and will need to attend advanced puppy classes before attending classes specifically designed for therapy dogs.

The staff is learning, as well. Mountin is working through the process of how exactly she needs to proceed to help Billy become certified, and Hart is working with staff, training them on how to pick up cues from patients that might need the welcome distraction or comfort the dog can provide.

Residents like Frank Heine can attest to the dog’s worth. He likes it when Billy comes out to see residents and said Billy is always enthusiastic. By the afternoon, Billy gets worn out, though.

“I get a kick out of how he gets sleepy in the afternoon and just plops down,” Heine said.

New Richland Care Center allows others to bring in their animals as well, but they must first receive clearance from staff, who check the animal’s vaccination records and temperament.