Caregiving is an admirable job, and during COVID-19 it’s been even more important. But caregivers are prone to burnout. Did you know dogs can help? 

Although nursing home and senior care residents have been hit hard by the illness, caregivers have been dealing with exhaustion on top of an increase in their usual duties. 

Enter the rescuers: dogs.

After pausing animal therapy programs under tight COVID-19-related visitor restrictions, facilities in some states began late last year to welcome four-legged friends back in a limited manner.

Other facilities are expanding in-house pet therapy programs to increase staff-led animal visits that provide some physical comfort without bringing extra humans into their buildings. 

Here’s why dogs should still have a place in your community, where they can assist residents and staff:

They keep residents calm

It’s no secret that giving a dog some love can have a positive effect on one’s wellbeing. Scientifically, the simple act of petting a pup releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. This reduces feelings of loneliness and anxiety, as well as lowering blood pressure and reducing pain.

The potential consequences of COVID-19 are scary to think about, particularly for those who may already feel isolated or have existing health problems. Those who require full-time care may be feeling unusually anxious, which has the dual effect of worsening their health and increasing caregivers’ workload. 

However, a simple visit from a therapy dog provides a happy escape from those worrying thoughts. Caregivers often notice an improvement in mood, an easing of anxious feelings and more motivation after a dog’s visit. 

Working with patients in a relaxed state is first prize for caregivers and significantly reduces stress and exhaustion. 

They provide emotional support 

Caregivers need care too. Therapy dogs not only help patients, but they’re a valuable source of comfort and stress-relief for caregivers themselves. 

Caregivers may be able to make use of therapy dogs themselves for anxiety-relieving purposes. In many cases, caregivers have their own pets at home who serve the purpose of comforting and providing emotional support as well as therapy dogs do. 

Dogs are a shoulder to cry on when things get too much. They help keep us active. They bring a smile to our faces with their antics. Of course, in today’s times, they’re also a close and willing companion who doesn’t need to socially distance the same way humans do. 

They can adapt to changing environments

Every caregiving facility has its own guidelines for therapy dogs at this point in time. Many of them have chosen to halt the use of therapy dogs at the moment, in an effort to make conditions as safe as possible for their residents, as well as dog handlers. 

Some facilities remain open to therapy dogs, understanding the soothing and supporting role that these animals can play in a time that’s rife with emotional stress. 

The CDC has released guidelines for the handlers of facility dogs to determine whether visits should be allowed to keep dogs, handlers, residents and staff safe.

Residents who have come to rely on interactions with therapy dogs to calm them down and brighten their days have been hit hard by restrictions. Some care facilities that decided to suspend therapy dog visits have made alternate arrangements. 

Therapy dog handler Pat Ward has been taking her dog, Baby, to visit residents of Island City Assisted Living in Michigan for the past six years. COVID couldn’t stop this pair. They now visit the residents through the window, keeping their distance but bringing joy nonetheless. 

Others have since followed suit, taking their dogs for socially-distanced visits through facility windows. Although not able to cuddle the dogs, residents seem to be happier for just seeing them and knowing that they visited. 

In Florida, patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s have been benefiting from interactions with robot pets. These have been shown to be amazingly effective at easing anxiety and loneliness in residents at long-term care facilities, patients in adult daycare and homebound patients receiving care. 

It’s unclear as to whether this would work as effectively for patients who don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it’s a safe, socially distanced way of providing some pet therapy and cuddly companionship. 

Other ways dogs have still been making people happy include a socially-distanced dog parade held by Paws With A Cause, and various organizations are using video to encourage interaction between patients and therapy pets.

Keep in mind that any kind of animal interactions that benefit residents will also likely give staff a much-needed emotional boost. 

Dogs are so much more than just goofy, tail-wagging fluffy friends. They’re a vital part of health and healthcare, for both patient and caregiver. Isn’t it about time every healthcare facility recognized their potential and started making more use of them? 

Mike Powell has loved dogs ever since childhood, when he was introduced to the service dogs of his father’s military colleagues. When he got a pup of his own, that love only grew. He writes about all things dog at Dog Embassy