Featured LIFE

Popular pups pay a visit

This friendly pup appears to be smiling as it visits Ridgeview Health Center. (courtesy of Love on a Leash)

Popular pups pay a visit

By Kaila Mellos

The Ridgeview Health Center in Scripps Ranch – a senior care community providing assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing – continuously works to improve overall resident happiness. Dog therapy has long been a way to connect and bring calming energy to large groups, and with the help of the Love on a Leash organization, Ridgeview brings in dogs for its residents.

“We become a surrogate-type family for them, and they start to have something to look forward to each week when we visit,” said Susan Subkow, San Diego Central Chapter Leader and member of the board of directors for Love on a Leash.

Since Ridgeview opened, the Love on a Leash program’s Inland Chapter has visited every Thursday. For many, this program is an outlet to connect with others around the center and with furry friends they grow to know.

“They love them, and they look forward to it, especially our memory care residents,” Ridgeview Health Center Life Enrichment Director Megan Ashworth said. “Our residents with dementia just respond really well to animals, especially the [residents] that had dogs themselves in their lifetime.”

The Inland Chapter has around eight dogs that interchange each week, bringing four at a time to Ridgeview. The chapter has a variety of dogs of different sizes that come to visit.

“They come once a week for an hour,” Ashworth said.

The residents look forward to the bonding time they get with these four-legged companions.

“I have one lady in memory care who, every time the dogs come, we bring her out. Then we put the dog on a chair so they’re more at eye level because she’s in a wheelchair,” Ashworth said. “She can then put her two hands out and give this dog a neck massage behind the ears. The dog stares into her eyes, and she stares into the dog’s eyes, and they could keep going all day if we let them.”

Many fantastic experiences stem from memory care patients’ time with the different dogs.

“They cling on, especially the memory care patients. They may not remember what they had for lunch, or they may not remember their roommate’s name, but they’ll remember the dog they had when they were 12 years old. They’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, this looks just like Sparky, the dog I had,’ and it evokes many wonderful memories for them,” Subkow said.

While interactions are happening with the dogs, it’s also a time when the residents get to see others they may not usually get the chance to speak with, and they bond over a common subject.

“It’s just about having something in common for most people, and when they don’t have anything else to talk about, they’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I love dogs,’ ‘Did you have dogs as a teenager?’ ‘Did you grow up with dogs?’ All great things that start these bubbly conversations,” Subkow said. “All of a sudden, the room is bursting, and they’re having a little conversation they may have never had before had those dogs not come to see them.”

Going week to week to all these different places, it is hard not to notice that the residents love the time they spend with the dogs, no matter how big or small they may be.

“They become attached to the animals, and I would say the main thing is that people are just looking forward to the interaction with somebody who is not there to give them medication, help them get clothed – not staff, but just something joyful to look forward to; and the dogs bring a ton of that to these folks,” Subkow said.

There are no plans for this joyful weekly event to stop, and Ridgeview is thrilled to bring this to their residents.

“We’re so grateful for Love on a Leash’s partnership. They’ve come for almost two and a half years straight now and make the residents’ week every time,” Ashworth said.

A furry friend seems excited to receive attention from a resident of Ridgeview Health Center. (courtesy of Love on a Leash)