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Mako the German Shepherd helps keeps things light, happy at the Inn at Deerfield assisted living facility

  • Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.<br/><br/>Here, Mako greets resident Fred Pridham in the hallway before lunch recently. Administrator and Mako owner Teresa Cleaves gives him a rub.

    Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.

    Here, Mako greets resident Fred Pridham in the hallway before lunch recently. Administrator and Mako owner Teresa Cleaves gives him a rub. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.<br/><br/>Here, Mako makes the rounds during lunch.

    Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.

    Here, Mako makes the rounds during lunch. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mako gets a treat from residents Betty Landry, left and Phyllis Arscott during lunch time at the Inn at Deerfiled.

    Mako gets a treat from residents Betty Landry, left and Phyllis Arscott during lunch time at the Inn at Deerfiled. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.<br/><br/>Here, Mako greets resident Fred Pridham in the hallway before lunch recently. Administrator and Mako owner Teresa Cleaves gives him a rub.
  • Mako the German Shepherd was honored at the Inn at Deerfield for helping the residents by cuddling and calming them, and how animals help the elderly.<br/><br/>Here, Mako makes the rounds during lunch.
  • Mako gets a treat from residents Betty Landry, left and Phyllis Arscott during lunch time at the Inn at Deerfiled.

Mako is not a party animal. Given the choice between a party – even one in his honor – and a nap, well, he’d prefer a belly rub.

It’s one of the reasons the residents at the Inn at Deerfield, an assisted living facility for adults with dementia, wanted to throw him a party in the first place. So they did. They declared last Wednesday to be Mako Day.

Mako belongs to nurse administrator Teresa Cleaves, who has been bringing him to work with her since August.

“He’s just a special dog,” said Bette Landry, who has lived at the facility since the fall. “It was part of moving here that I was worried about, that I wouldn’t have a dog. I’ve always had dogs. It just makes the place more homey.”

Recent research estimates 5.5 million people over the age of 65 – about a quarter of the elderly population – will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

And with the irritability, confusion, depression and social isolation that those diseases can bring, it’s no surprise that facilities have been bringing in cute and cuddly friends. The benefits for dementia patients of interacting with animals have been shown through research for at least 10 years, and the practice actually began in the 1950s.

“Dog contact appears to facilitate a positive mental attitude, and appears to reduce the negative impact of living in” an assisted living facility, a group of Australian researchers wrote in 2004.

“It has been suggested that animals communicate better than humans with people with dementia who may have impaired language skills, because animals rely more on body language,” they wrote. In fact, “the non-verbal communications of dogs were reportedly more friendly, non-judgmental, and conducive to sociable behaviors than those of the best-intentioned staff members.”

“They must know you,” said Fred Pridham, a resident at the Inn at Deerfield, about Mako. “A regular dog wouldn’t do what he does, come in and lay down and let me pet him.”

Pridham grew up on a farm in New Castle, where his family had pigs and cows and dogs, but all of the animals slept in the barn.

Landry’s pets always lived in the house where she grew up in Pembroke. When she married, she easily convinced her husband that they should get a German Shepherd, too.

Looking at Mako, her eyes well up with tears remembering Major, who looked just like Mako.

“He was a big guard dog, and it worked because he was a big coward, but no one knew it. He wouldn’t bite a flea,” she said. “This is a good dog. He’s such a sweetheart.”

Tom Kallechey enjoys the time with Mako during visits with his mother, who has advanced dementia.

“He was so immediately friendly, and I’ve never heard him make a sound, not a bark or anything,” Kallechey said.

One day, while Kallechey was sitting and visiting with his mother, Mako came over and put one of his saucer-sized paws on the man’s knee. “Before I really knew it, he plunked himself up in my lap. I really appreciate how friendly he is, and how gentle.”

Mako isn’t the only four-footed health care provider in the region.

Not all of them come to the role just through serendipity, though.

The Merrimack County Nursing Home in Boscawen has a small herd of cats, between four and six at any given time, and employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work on Fridays, usually two or three per week, said administrator Lori Shibinette.

A veterinarian chooses older adult cats for the home based on their temperament and personality, “so we know they like to cuddle and socialize,” Shibinette said.

“We have residents who like to be caregivers and caretakers. This gives them purpose and makes them happy. It’s just always been something that we’ve seen work really well,” she said.

Concord Hospital also has a pet therapy program, run jointly by volunteer services and therapeutic arts and activity services.

The program, called Pets Uplift People – or PUP – started in 1999, said Alice Kinsler, manager of therapeutic arts and activity services. Since then, about 20 dogs have volunteered to visit patients of all kinds, not just those with dementia.

All of the dogs, and their human owners, must take a canine good citizenship class and receive certification, and they are escorted on their visits by a staff member who has a list of appropriate patients, she said.

The animals make a distinct impression.

Kinsler has heard “beautiful testimonials” about patients recovering after visiting with an animal, including one who hadn’t spoken for days but started talking about a visit from a PUP volunteer.

“I remember not too long ago I was escorting a dog, and we went to see a patient who said, ‘I was here back in 2005, and I got visited by Blitzen. I still have his calling card on my fridge,’ ” Kinsler said.

“I remember thinking, out of everything about your hospital stay, that’s what you remember? The dog? But then I thought, ‘Isn’t it a good thing that somebody remembers the good things about their hospital visit and not the bad?’ ”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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