New Tricks Greyhounds Lavish Love on Alzheimer's Patients

Article excerpt

Bo and Coke are self-appointed watchdogs of short-circuiting memories.

With a nuzzle of the hand, a nudge to the leg or simply a quiet presence, they calm the confusion and anxiety of dementia.

They are a pair of laid-back greyhounds that have found homes in the Alzheimer's units of nursing homes.

On any day, Bo can be found meandering the halls of Meadowbrook Manor, Coke the corridors of Meadows Care Center. They visit bedfast residents and walk with those who wander aimlessly. At night, when the disease inexplicably increases agitation, they go from resident to resident, offering a soothing dose of affection.

"It's interesting to see how a dog takes on a protective nature over 40 some-odd people," says Richele Hughes, Alzheimer's unit coordinator for The Meadows.

It wasn't long ago that the protectiveness and affection of these dogs mattered little. Their futures were about as bleak as the Alzheimer's patients with whom they now live.

Coke, a brindle 8-year-old with a graying muzzle, was a retired racer from a dog track in Waterloo, Iowa. Like other retired race dogs, she was destined for euthanasia unless saved by adoption.

Bo, a black and brown freckled 7-year-old, had no racing history. He was simply a pet that had been shuffled from family to family.

"He was too affectionate. That was the bottom line," says Rinda Kerns, a greyhound adoption coordinator who helped find homes for Bo.

This general temperament of greyhounds and the growing popularity of pet therapy were Bo's and Coke's salvation.

Greyhounds have gained a place in nursing home therapy because they are large enough to reach a bedfast resident and to be reached from wheelchairs, say nursing home administrators. They also can be seen easily by those with failing eyesight.

More important is their disposition.

"Greyhounds are very friendly and mild-tempered, and with people who are confused, that's the kind of dog they need," Hughes said.

They can dash loneliness and anxiety in nursing home residents and give residents something to nurture, a reason to get up in the morning, administrators say. Pets also help remove the institutional atmosphere and make nursing homes more homelike, they say.

"It may be long-term care, but it is their home and we try to keep it as close to `home' as you can get it," says Jane Eddington, administrator of Meadowbrook. …