GREENFIELD — When a four-legged friend comes by for a visit, Eloise Hon is ready.
The 86-year-old has treats stashed away in her wheelchair bag, ready to whip out the moment she hears the scuffle of furry feet in the hallway.
As a result, her room at Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation has become somewhat of a popular destination.
“Some dogs know my room,” she said. “They’ll pull their owners.”
Pet-lovers have long known that spending time with an animal can lift your spirits and provide welcome companionship, but the medical community also recognizes the benefits of animal interaction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a pet can result in decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as improve a person’s emotional state.
Pet therapy – even just in the form of casual visits – can be especially beneficial for the aging, experts say. As a result, many nursing homes and assisted-living centers coordinate volunteers to visit with their pets. Others integrate animals into their communities on a full-time basis.
Jinx Oberly, director of Golden Living Center-Brandywine Nursing Home, has been inviting animals of all varieties into her facility for the past 14 years. It’s a practice she stands by, as she says she’s seen first-hand the effect it has on both residents and staff.
Not only does the facility have animals that wander freely, but family members of the residents are invited to bring their family pets in to visit as well.
The animals that spend their days at the facility – a cat named Lizzie and too many pups to count – have a calming effect on the residents, Oberly said.
“It helps them relax,” Oberly said.
They’re also a friend to those who might not have many visitors.
Years ago, one of the facility’s dogs brought one woman out of her shell for the first time since she came to the nursing home. The woman had been so reserved that staff members believed she could no longer speak, Oberly remembered.
“Then the dog came up to her, and she started talking,” she said. “She communicated with the animal.”
It’s not the only time Oberly has seen a patient whose life found new meaning when a pet entered the scene.
Beverly Marshall, who has been staying at Brandywine while recovering from a stroke, has taken a special liking to Diamond, a timid Chihuahua that stays primarily in Marshall’s room.
Marshall, 74, treats the dog as if it were her own, taking her about the facility each day.
“She goes to church every Sunday, and she listens to all the hymns, and then, like most of the residents, she lays down to sleep,” Marshall said with a grin.
Diamond and Lizzie live at the facility full time, roaming the grounds and visiting residents at their leisure. Oberly said while she might not always know where the animals are, she never worries. She knows they are with people who love them.
Some of the facility’s other pets go home with staff members at night.
Bonnie Anderson, a licensed practical nurse at the facility, brings Pepper, a Schnauzer, to work with her each morning.
“I felt like she was meant to be here,” Anderson said, standing in the lunchroom Wednesday with the dog propped on her shoulder. “She loves these people.”
As any pet-owner can attest, animals seem to sense when they’re needed, whether a person is lonely or ill. In a nursing home setting, a furry friend’s comfort can be especially important.
“We’ve had people that were actually passing away, and Pepper would sit right there,” Anderson said. “She knew.”
Becky Seats and her husband, George, of Greenfield, have been visiting nursing homes with their dogs for about two years.
Seats said the visits are well-received by the residents, who perk up whenever one of the dogs comes around.
“It puts a smile on their face,” Seats said. “It’s something I want to do all my life.”
Seats said the rewards are as great for the volunteers as the residents.
“We wanted to be a blessing to someone, but they’re a blessing to us,” she said.
The Seatses and their two Yorkshire terriers recently visited Kindred Transitional Care, where they were a hit among the residents who gathered to greet the pups.
Mary Jane Sinn, 95, said she’s always loved animals and enjoys any chance to interact with them.
Sinn sometimes has trouble remembering how long she’s lived at the facility, but she instantly recognizes the Seatses’ pets, which are regular visitors.
On Friday during a visit, she eagerly watched for Lucy, a Yorkie the perfect size for any lap.
“I love all the animals,” Sinn said. “Bring us a dog!”