“When I’m busy, he’ll just lay up there,” Burt said. PHOTO BY KEELY LARSON

National Dog Week

Pets pretty much have superpowers

In case this was not already on your calendar, we are in the midst of National Dog Week. Most residents of Gallatin and Madison county do not need an extra excuse to celebrate their dogs, but it never hurts to shamelessly post large quantities of pictures of your pup on social media. 

National Dog Week also offers a different lens through which to view pet companionship. Home Instead Senior Care in Bozeman aims to give seniors the best quality of life wherever they call home by offering independence, dignity and pets. Home Instead recently developed a Pets and Adults program, encouraging pet interaction and ownership with aging adults. “Some of their pets are family members,” Cindy Sander, Home Care Consultant with Home Instead, said.

Pets provide various physiological benefits for aging adults including lower blood pressure, pain relief, improved heart health, less stress, increased exercise and reduced feelings of loneliness. These benefits were found by a survey done by the main branch of Home Instead in Omaha, Nebraska.

Pet ownership may not be feasible for all, but other options are available and still provide the same advantages. For example, Big Sky is an enthusiastically pet-friendly community. Dogs hang out in businesses and people are out at all intervals taking their dogs on a walk.

Home Instead recommends practical alternatives such as volunteering at an animal shelter and getting to know your neighbors’ pets as ways of finding pet time. These options provide aging adults with social interaction and some exercise, both benefits of pet interaction. “They’re part of the family! Having that companionship, that connection,” Ruth Ann Marchi, CSA with Home Instead, emphasized.

Both Madison Valley Manor (MVM) and the Tobacco Root Mountain Care Facility in Madison County have pet policies that do not allow residents to own pets, but employees find ways to bring animals into their residents’ lives. 

Armon, maintenance supervisor Tom Burt’s Pomeranian, struts the halls of MVM looking for head scratches and treats. “He is like our mascot for the facility,” Bonnie O’Neill, Chief Administrative Officer for Madison County, said. “If Armon’s not next to me every day the residents will ask, ‘where’s Armon?’” Burt laughed.

Occasionally, employees and caregivers bring their pets in for the residents to pamper. Excessive treat giving in the past resulted in weight gain in visiting dogs. Leona Stredwick, new activities coordinator at MVM, has a solution. Stredwick is working on implementing a baking activity with the final product going to the dogs. “I just thought as a way to combine an activity with a purpose to do a baking day and to do pet friendly treats,” Stredwick explained. Pet friendly and healthy treats.

This way, residents are interacting with each other and with the pets, two different types of social interaction. Stredwick wants to bring residents to a ranch in the spring so they can experience the baby horses and cows. Another pet related idea she brought up included an educational and science component. Through this, she would introduce a different animal each week and teach a lesson about a specific component of that animal. “I’m hoping to get enough pets lined out so I can have a pet every week, or just an animal. It doesn’t have to be a standard dog/cat thing,” Stredwick said.

Both women at Home Instead and employees at MVM emphasized how everything they do is for their residents. “We like to make a difference in our senior’s lives,” Sander said. “They touch our hearts.” 

“Pets give something that humans can’t. They don’t expect a whole lot back from them (humans) and just that kind of unconditional attention and love really benefits people,” Allison Veland, social worker with MVM, said. “They may not remember everything we said to them, but they remember how we made them feel,” she continued.

Veland’s sentiment is not only relevant to aging adults—anyone spending time with a pet can experience that love and attention. With this in mind, the divide in ages is irrelevant. 

Armon will be a name all MVM residents remember. He added to their happiness and brightened their days. He made them feel loved. This National Dog Week, maybe bring your best canine friend to visit a grandparent or a beloved resident at a care facility. It would make for a long-treasured memory.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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