Therapy Dogs Sidelined By Coronavirus Pandemic Returning to Work

Some therapy and comfort dogs were sidelined for more than six months amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Many comfort and therapy dogs have been grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, meaning they've been unable to share their love with those who need it most. While some found creative ways to spread cheer while being out of traditional work, some in-person visits are finally resuming.

"I just love the dogs," said Yolanda Hathaway, a resident at the Colonial Gardens Senior Care Facility in Beverly, Massachusetts. 

Hathaway’s feeling is mutual. Lydia, a comfort dog, is visiting to spread the love.

Normally Lydia, who is one of more than 100 Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs nationwide, has a full 6-day-a-week schedule.

“She visits nursing homes,” said one of Lydia’s handlers, Karen Kline. “She visits hospitals, she visits public libraries.”

But like many comfort and therapy dogs, Lydia had been sidelined by COVID-19 for more than six months.

“The facilities that she had been to were not really open to having outsiders come into their buildings,” said Joyce Sauca, another one of Lydia’s handlers.

Lydia was back on the job last week for the first time since March at Colonial Gardens. 

Although, the golden retriever now hugs, sniffs and licks guests who wear masks and sit six feet apart, it's still a treat for seniors like Richie Geraghty who went months without any visitors.

“I think she's beautiful,” Geraghty said. “Very nice. Very nice.”

The past several months have been difficult for his wife, Pat Geraghty.

“Having nobody come to see you,” she said. “And now they come to see you but they have to wait outside.“

Manager Sam Martin says "one of the biggest challenges for a senior, especially after they lose a spouse, is the spend a lot of time alone.”

”And that's very different and that's very difficult and it's unhealthy,” she added.

That’s why Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital created a video of dog handler Amy Engelhardt, comfort dog Harry the Healer, and hundreds of volunteers spreading joy to patients.

Watching it still cheers them up. They call the activity the “Hope Train.”

“And every day for three months we would circle the hospital,” said Engelhardt, who serves as Harry’s handler. “We just send up so much hope to them.”

Caring Canines Therapy Dogs shared out-of-work Instagram posts during the pandemic to cope with not being around their clients. 

Though the pandemic shut their operation down, they spent their time preparing daily to get back to caring.

“We are testing each dog before they go back in - not by doing individual tests,” said Caring Canines Executive Director, Saundra Luikenhuis. “We have actually a facilitator there who is also an evaluator.”

Returning to work after coronavirus lockdowns isn’t just a big transition for you — it's also a big adjustment for your dog. Maya Jedlicka of Texas-based Cosmic Canine offers tips to prevent your dog from suffering separation anxiety when you start spending time away from home.

Alfie, Boss, Charlie and Luka got their chance for the first time in months to cheer up clients last week at Benchmark Senior Living at Waltham Crossing. It was outside and socially distanced for safety.

Even during the pandemic, these comfort and therapy dogs stand ready to answer the call of duty.

Now that things are starting to open up more, the Lutheran Church Charities says they’ll be back to Colonial Garden Senior Care Facility in Beverly once a month so residents can enjoy Lydia’s comfort more often. 

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