If you’ve been following us on Instagram and Facebook, you know that this year we’ve been spending a great deal of time on nursing home visits. Currently, we have several relatives living in residential care facilities. We’ve helped them make the move, and are overjoyed to say they’re really loving their new homes and all the activities they get to experience every week, and we appreciate the professional health care they are receiving.
One facility is a three-hour drive from us so we were delighted when the nursing home administrators said we were welcome to bring Irie and Tiki along on visits. Our relatives lived with dogs their entire lives so the chance for them to visit with our dogs was wonderful. It’s an opportunity that the home offers for families to bring pets to visit, whether that’s a pet of the visiting family member or a pet relinquished by a nursing home resident. (Many nursing homes schedule visits from therapy dogs who have undergone special training but we’re talking about family pets.) Irie and Tiki are not therapy dogs but are allowed to visit as part of the family, an opportunity that has been so wonderful for us and for our relatives to get the chance to enjoy some dog companionship for a few hours.
After numerous visits with Irie and Tiki over the past year, we wanted to share some tips in case you, too, might be in a situation of visiting a loved one in a nursing facility:
Talk with the Administrators
Talk with the nursing home administrators about the possibility of bringing your dog to visit relatives. Not all homes will be open to the possibility of a visit–or may limit your visit to outdoors only–but it can’t hurt to ask.
Bring Proof of Immunizations
It’s always a good idea to carry your dog’s proof of immunization (especially a current rabies vaccine) when traveling but especially important on a nursing home visit. We filed current immunization records with the nursing home before our first visit, and we carry proof of immunization with us as well.
Know Your Dog
Not every dog will be a good candidate for visiting relatives in a nursing home. Different scents, wheelchairs, walkers, and residents walking with an irregular gait can frighten some dogs. If your dog barks or is easily frightened, you might need to consider an off-site visit with relatives (can your relatives leave for a lunch at the park and a visit with your dog?) In our dogs’ case, both Irie and Tiki really enjoy their nursing home visits. Most of the visits are spent in our relatives’ rooms, and they quickly adjust and lie down after the initial excitement. One of John’s cousins spends most of his day in a central area near the nurses’ station, and is very impaired, so I take only Tiki to visit him. She leans against his wheelchair (and is a magnet for other residents who come for some one-on-one time with her as well.) Irie would be more nervous about the sounds of the nurses’ station so she happily stays back at the room with John and his cousins.
Groom Your Dog
With many residents with sensitive immune systems, it’s important that your dog be well-groomed before a visit (including nail trims). Along with a bath, both Irie and Tiki get extra brushing (and a deshedding spray). I always like to put happy seasonal bandanas on them both as well for their visits–they help bring a smile to everyone who sees them coming.
Walk Before Arriving
Since the drive from our home to the nursing home is almost three hours, we stop for lunch along the way, usually at a state park where they get a long walk to help reduce any restlessness before their visit.
Bring a Short Leash
Both Irie and Tiki use a four-foot leash, and I shorten those for our walks down the nursing home halls. With the mobility issues experienced by many residents, it’s important that your dog is able to stay right at your side when passing residents, residents with walkers, medication carts, and wheelchairs. Leave retractable leashes at home.
Be Aware of Tripping Risks
Falls are an ongoing concern at nursing homes so it’s especially important to keep an eye out for drips of water. I carry a pop-up silicone bowl attached to my dog walking bag, and give the dogs water at least twice during our visits, but I’m careful to mop up every drop of water they may splatter. In small nursing home rooms, it’s also important to make sure no one trips and falls over your dog or dog leash.
Be Aware of Other Residents
Not every residents wants to see your dog, and be aware that your dog may even frighten some residents. We have a route we always walk from the front entrance to our relatives’ rooms, passing by as few people as possible. On our arrival, we often see residents enjoying some sunshine in front of the home or sitting in the lobby, but we wait for the resident to initiate an interest in visiting with the dogs before we let the dogs approach them.
Stay on Leash
Make sure your dog stays on leash at all times.
Visit at Off Times
We try to plan our visits during the mid-week when the home has fewer visitors (and it’s usually after lunch by the time we get there so we miss lunch visitors as well).
A visit from a dog can really brighten everyone’s day. This past year, we’ve had so many conversations with nursing home residents, nurses, and other visiting families, all drawn when they see Irie and Tiki. Just as dogs do during every phase of our lives, their presence helps relax those they meet, and a friendly wag can bring sunshine to any day.