HEFLIN — She roams the halls at Cleburne County Nursing home, checking residents and staff alike as she makes her rounds. She brings joy and comfort to all.
But she’s not a nurse. Or even human.
She’s Faith, a rotund terrier mix.
The residents make way for her and often lean over in their wheelchairs to pet the dog as she passes.
Katie Wynne, a resident at the home for two years, is one of Faith’s stops.
“She loves me,” Wynne said. “She takes care of me; she thinks she does.”
Faith often sleeps at the foot of Wynne’s bed, according to Sarah Lindsey, the nursing home’s social services director. And Wynne said she loves it. She and her husband used to have all kinds of animals and she missed them when she came to live at the nursing home, Wynne said. Faith helps fill that hole, she said.
The dog came to live at the facility in December 2012, as a therapeutic dog, said Lindsey, who helped adopt her from the Randolph County Animal Shelter in Wedowee.
Administrator Eura Harrell had seen an advertisement in the paper for another dog and sent Lindsey and another staff member to adopt that one, Lindsey said. But by the time they arrived the advertised dog had been adopted, so they looked for another one.
“Faith came through the door right up to us and looked at us as if to say, ‘Let’s go home,’” Lindsey said. “I knew she was the one.”
That was Dec. 12, 2012, – 12/12/12 – Lindsey said.
“It was a lucky day for us and for her,” Lindsey said. “She’s got it made.”
She fit in right away at the nursing home, Lindsey said, seeming to know which residents like animals and which don’t — she gives the ones who don’t a wide berth — Lindsey said. And she also seems to know which residents need her, Lindsey said.
One resident, whom Lindsey declined to name, had become uncommunicative. She would go to the nursing home lobby and just watch traffic go by, speaking to no one, Lindsey said. Faith took notice and started to meet the woman in the lobby just sitting next to her. Now, people have noticed the woman petting Faith as she sits there.
That’s a good example of how dogs can be therapeutic for patients, Lindsey said — by providing undemanding companionship.
The American Journal of Critical Care has published a few papers about animal-assisted therapy on its website. One, “Animal Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized with Heart Failure,” lists decreases in blood pressure and heart rate, an increase in skin temperature, decreases in anxiety, isolation and fear of procedures and improvements in social interaction, social support and communication as some of the benefits exposure to animals can provide.
The American Humane Society started a study three years ago about the effects of animal therapy on children with cancer and their parents and guardians. The study is trying to quantify anecdotal evidence that children undergoing treatment for cancer who are visited by dogs in the program feel decreased stress, loneliness and depression as well as increased exercise, relaxation and improved social skills. The results will be released in 2015.
Faith has become a beloved member of the nursing home family, Lindsey said. She has beds in different offices and at the nursing station. The staff takes turns walking her outside. She is so popular that at her last check up, the veterinarian said Faith had put on 6 pounds.
Lindsey said one staff member, Rhonda Watson, has the responsibility of feeding Faith, but residents will often keep scraps of food in their pockets to feed her.
“She gets all kinds of stuff during the day that we can’t prevent,” Lindsey said with a laugh.