Home Instead who support older people living at home in and around the North Yorkshire towns of Harrogate, Ripon and Thirsk, know only too well the benefits of having a therapy dog on their team.
Andrew and Sheena Van Parys, owners of Home Instead, rescued Ripley, a Border Collie, just over a year ago when he was just 12 months old. Andrew Van Parys commented; ‘We were thinking of having a therapy or pet dog for some time, as we realised that many of our clients were dog owners in the past and enjoyed the company of dogs, but were no longer able to look after one, especially if they had downsized and moved into a retirement flat . We also knew that animals can offer comfort and help alleviate stress and anxiety’.
A therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people, and the most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, gentle and must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled sometimes quite roughly.
Ripley had thorough training for his role to ensure he was suitable to meet people. During training he socialised with the office and CAREGiving team for the first 6 months to ensure he was ready to visit a client in their own home. Not only can he take a biscuit very gently from a stranger’s hand but also on the correct command he will not touch anything, not even his favourite toy, but sit very quietly and attentively until given the next command.
Andrew added: ‘Ripley is a real softy; he loves to be petted and stroked, especially on his tummy. He enjoys meeting people and provides comfort and affection not only to our clients but also to our office and CAREGiving team. He can handle sudden loud or strange noises and is not frightened by objects such as wheelchairs or walking sticks’.
Ripley goes to the office everyday ready for lots of petting and affection; he is often taken out on visits to see clients. He not only lets people stroke him but also really enjoys playing ball games; he will catch a ball for hours that has been thrown from someone sitting in a wheelchair. At night he returns home with Andrew and Sheena where he gets more tummy rubs and ball games from their 3 young children.
Research has suggested that interactions with therapy dogs can temporarily increase oxytocin and dopamine in the brain; these chemicals are linked with bonding and motivation, while at the same time lowering cortisol levels which are associated with stress and anxiety.
Home Instead certainly agrees with this research as they see the effect that Ripley has had on those who meet him, as Andrew states; ‘Ripley brings happiness and lifts everyone’s spirits every day, we are very lucky as he has got just the right temperament for the job’