Pets bring ‘life and enjoyment’ to nursing homes

DeKALB – Carol Smith insists her golden retriever, Buddy, rarely barks when he’s at home. But when he enters the DeKalb County Nursing & Rehab Center, his voice echoes down the long halls.

“It’s like he announces he’s here, and people come to their doors and wait for him,” said Kathy Vickers, the nursing home’s community life director. “People who don’t come out of their rooms much will hear him and come out into the hall.”

Buddy is one of 10 animals that visits the home through the Pawsitive TAILS program. There are seven other dogs, one cat and a duck who also visit the county home, as well as the Oak Crest and Grand Victorian retirement centers, program coordinator Lisa Smith said.

“Something about dogs just makes the world seem good,” county home resident Cleo Macart said as she caressed the ears of Betty, a small black English Labrador retriever. Macart recalled one day she wasn’t feeling well, but felt better after some dogs paid a visit.

“Something about them gets to you,” she said. “They’re more human than you are.”

Research has shown that visiting with animals has positive physiological effects for humans, such as reducing blood pressure and stress hormones, Vickers said. She can see the psychological benefits the animals have as well.

“They have really brought life and enjoyment to our home,” she said. “People are smiling, they’re anticipating what’s going to happen. ...The dogs can be very playful, but they know when to be calm. We’ve had them visit residents who have been very ill, sometimes at the end of life, and the dogs seem to sense that. They enter the room very calmly, they nuzzle the families, they nuzzle the person in the bed. It’s the most amazing thing. ...It’s brought tears to my eyes more than once.”

Resident Bill Lavender cuddled Ryan, a sheltie, last week, calling the dog “baby.” He has always loved animals, he said. “I love my little dogs. I don’t care whose they are,” he said.

Smith is hoping to expand the grant-funded Pawsitive TAILS program to schools. The program has stringent requirements for both animals and handlers; the last time Smith put out a call for volunteers, she said she got calls from 30 people, but only five made it to the point of having their animals evaluated.

More volunteers are being sought. Dogs must have obedience training, and all animals must pass a temperament test. For more information, contact Lisa Smith at

Loading more