Animals have been living at our nursing home for many years. Our littlest residents included dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, gerbils, fish, and even chinchillas. A group of employees and volunteers care for each type of animal. Several years ago I was on the rabbit team. We made sure the two bunnies had food & water, brought them outside to play, and cleaned their cages.
One of our residents (I’ll call her Mary) grew very fond of one of the rabbits (I’ll call him Charlie). Mary’s room was right across the hall from Charlie’s cage. She spent many hours talking to him, petting him, and feeding him treats. Whenever I cleaned Charlie’s cage, Mary always appeared out of nowhere to supervise and to make sure I did everything correctly.
Sadly, Mary suddenly fell ill one day and required hospital care. A nursing assistant decided to pay her a visit and check on her condition. She returned with the report that Mary wasn’t doing well, and she really missed Charlie. So I called the charge nurse at the hospital and asked if we could bring Charlie over to the hospital for a visit.
The charge nurse said she had never heard of a request like that, so she referred me to the infection control nurse. This nurse told me she didn’t think it was a good idea to bring animals into the hospital, especially something unusual like a rabbit.
So I gave up on bringing Charlie over to visit Mary. But little did I know that a few other people at the nursing home had a different idea. One evening a nurse, a nursing assistant, and another resident placed Charlie in a backpack and headed over to the hospital. The resident sat in a wheelchair with the backpack on her lap. They managed to sneak up to Mary’s room without being detected. Of course, Mary was thrilled to see her little friend.
A short time later, Mary passed away at the hospital. Even though I shouldn’t recommend their strategy, in this case I’m so glad the other nursing home staff didn’t give up as easily as I did!
Over the years, we’ve seen healthcare facilities become a lot more comfortable with animals. There’s tons of research showing the many benefits animals bring to nursing home residents. Check out this great article for more ideas on how you can incorporate pets into your nursing home.
Do pets live in your nursing home? Please share your stories in the comment section!