Nearly every Saturday for the past two and a half years, Ruth Haendler and her 17-year old son, Michael and their dog, Nutmeg have been welcome yet unconventional volunteers at Mediplex. They have dedicated themselves to share with the residents at the nursing and convalescent home in Stamford.
Prior to the Haendlers coming to the facility, the family reserved part of the summer in order to complete a five-week training and evaluation course with their dog in “pet assisted therapy” through the Good Dog Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to promote society’s understanding of the therapeutic value of the human-animal bond. The goal of this training program was to ensure certification of volunteers and their animals in order to provide safe and therapeutic visits.
Every weekend, the threesome are welcome visitors at the nursing home as part of an animal assisted therapy team and are judiciously written into patients’ weekly schedule. With the understanding that these patients rarely receive visits from young people and their pets, Michael and his mother demonstrate compassion as they listen to their stories, bring them small gifts on special occasions, photograph the patients and entertain them with their golden retriever’s tricks.
Even patients who have difficulty with verbal responses, the pair’s quiet encouragement, along with Nutmeg’s leanings and nuzzlings, obviously engages the clients as they pet, smile and nod. Providing these therapeutic and positive interactions with the elderly and rehabilitative patients clearly delight the residents as the call out to the family when they see them in the halls. As committed visitors, the Haendler’s golden threesome support residents as they deal with issues such as Alzheimer’s, serious illness and failing health.
In order to encourage others to join in pet assisted therapy, the three have volunteered in promoting the program at the Good Dog Foundation booth during local dog shows and festivities. Ruth maintains volunteering compounds happiness. Michael explains volunteering with a mathematical equation: V(volunteering) + V ( volunteering) does not equal 2V but V squared.