As some people age, caring for a pet becomes more difficult. Whether it’s the challenge of paying for regular veterinary care or simply keeping up with cleaning and activity needs, senior citizens—especially those living alone—can find pet ownership troublesome.
But for aging individuals who love animals and value the companionship that pets provide, giving up furry family members can be heartbreaking. That’s where Caregiver Canines comes into the picture. The New-Jersey-based nonprofit brings therapy dogs into the homes of seniors who can no longer care for dogs.
“It’s a really nice family relationship that builds. Our volunteers do a lot,” says Danielle Maley, who works as a coordinator for the organization. “They don’t get paid for this, so it’s really out of the goodness of their own hearts.”
The organization has a network comprised of over 40 different therapy dogs and their owners who regularly make trips to the homes of the elderly and disabled in Ocean County. And the program participants on the receiving end of the canine love definitely count the visits as a weekly highlight.
“I meet him at the door, he looks up at me with those brown eyes, and he gives me a kiss,” says Sandra, a 91-year-old senior involved in the program, who gets regular visits from a greyhound named Van. “It’s just unconditional love.”
Mike, a 95-year-old lifelong dog lover, agrees that there’s a special connection. He feels it with Nutmeg, a Labrador Retriever that visits him often. “I love dogs, and I had one until I moved here. But after a while, dear, old Mike got a little too old,” he says. “It gives me a lot of pleasure.”
All dogs in the program are certified therapy animals, and each session lasts about 45 minutes—plenty of time for lots of snuggles and kisses. During the visits, some volunteers help the seniors with light housework or simply sit and strike up conversations.
“It’s great to see the joy on the senior’s faces when we bring the dogs out to see them,” says Maley. “The dogs work for love. That’s the best part about it.”
Deidre Grieves is the senior content strategist and digital producer for PawCulture and petMD. Wiener dogs are her life.