Residents of the Pines Retirement Home had an unusual visitor this week when Chase, a 5-year-old Doberman Pinscher, dropped by.
The quiet atmosphere in the home was interrupted by some excitement Tuesday when trainer Alberto Bryan walked in with Chase, and there were smiles all around as the dog and students from George Town Primary School lifted spirits.
“He’s a darling and a beauty. I used to have one just like him,” said 85-year-old George Bothwell, a Pines resident.
“You all did a wonderful job today. You never know what goes on between these four walls, there’s people who have things in their life that they can never be happy again. But this visit has done me an abundance of good,” he said.
Mr. Bothwell, along with other residents, chatted with students and took part in a training demonstration with Chase. At times Mr. Bothwell used his own past experience as the owner of Bothwell’s Day Care in West Bay to get students’ attention.
The school visit was part of a “pet therapy” visitation program offered by Paws4Youth, which is running a two-month pilot program that introduces pet therapy as an alternative to traditional therapy.
Houseguard Security Company Cayman Ltd. owner Mr. Bryan had approached Michael Myles, at-risk youth coordinator and founder of Youth ACT, as a concerned citizen wanting to do something to help with the program.
Mr. Bryan and lead dog trainer Kenneth Morgan said there are not many therapy dogs on island, making Chase a great asset for those in need.
“A part of the program is to look at alternative therapeutic services for the youth and a major aspect of what Paws4Youth is, is making sure that even when parents aren’t around, that children have access to small levels of therapy,” Mr. Myles said.
According to him, the goal is to create a wellness environment. “We’ve been having a lot of issues with children and parents going into traditional counseling … it may not be assessable or at convenient times … having the dog therapy is another alternative,” he said.
Mr. Myles commented on a recent study that was done by the World Health Organization on mental illness in Cayman, which highlights that young people don’t have a lot of access to mental health resources.
“What that transforms into is poor education – we have a lot of youngsters who aren’t actually engaged at school, or they’re causing major behavioral problems. They’re also being excluded from school long term,” Mr. Myles said.
He said taking the young people to the Pines to take part in the pet therapy demonstration helped to provide them with a level of compassion. “We have a high number of youths that have no compassion. Gang violence, bullying and a number of other things happening in and outside schools …. By exposing them to the fragile and elderly, they can learn to show compassion,” he said. Mr. Myles said the program, however, may not be sustainable due to funding issues.
“Alberto is a full time employee and has his own construction company and he has been giving us the program for the past two months for free. That may not be sustainable for a long time.” he said.
He said the hope for the program is to offer it once a month on Saturdays at the Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park at Grand Harbour. “We are hoping to transition the program, and if we can’t get it back in the schools, we will have to look at other alternatives,” Mr. Myles said.
Shelly-Ann Bush, a receptionist at the Pines, said visits from therapy dogs made the residents very happy and made them smile and that it showed the residents great benefits. “Especially when living in the Pines, regular visits with the dogs can have positive physical, emotional and mental benefits,” she said.
She added that physical benefits of the visit can include lowering blood pressure, heart rate and overall stress levels. “Emotional benefits are reducing anxiety and depression,” she said.
The Pines Retirement Home caters to 34 clients, including full-time residents and day-care clients. The day-care program exists so that those who still have a level of independence can come in for the day and be involved in activities.
Ashani Francis-Collins contributed to this report.