Caitlin UltimoPet Parenting / Pet Stories

Pets Doing Good: Dogs With Jobs and Cats on a Mission

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Caregiver Canines: In Toms River, New Jersey, senior citizens can sign up for some soul-soothing pet therapy through Caregiver Canines, a program that started in 2009 at the nonprofit agency Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey. Seniors are matched up with one of the 30 participating therapy dogs, who come to visit them in their homes every week to brighten up their day. All of the pups are certified therapy dogs who are registered with recognized groups like Therapy Dogs International or Bright and Beautiful. They range in age from one all the way up to 13, and there are many breeds represented, including Shorkie, Powderpuff Chinese Crested, Pit Bull Mix, Greyhound, Wheaton Terrier, Japanese Chin, Bernese Mountain Dog and more. The seniors they visit are dog lovers that either can’t afford to care for a dog or aren’t physically capable. Matches are made based on personality to find a suitable dog and handler duo for each senior. Lynette Whiteman, executive director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, explains the effect that these visits have on seniors who can feel lonely or isolated. “When they meet ‘their’ dog for the first time, they light up and are so happy. For those who have dementia, it is also so sweet—many of them begin to talk for the first time in a long time because old memories are brought back. Some of our matches have lasted many years, so the volunteers, dogs and seniors become like a close family.” These therapy dogs are treated like superstars during their visits, and they get extremely excited in the car on the way to see their extended family. “They generally jump right up on the senior’s lap or have their special place on the couch, and they just love all the attention. Our handlers love these matches too, since it’s so personal and they get to share their ‘babies.’  It’s truly a win-win for everyone.”

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