It doesn’t take long for five-year-old Delilah to brighten up a room.
When the miniature poodle walked into the Cypress Point Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Tuesday, her presence alone radiated a sense of joy that only a four-legged friend could do.
“[Delilah] just loves people. I think she could stay here forever,” owner Patti Hunsicker said.
Delilah is one of three certified therapy dogs that regularly visit the Bossier City home. The canines are registered through Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals and wherever they are needed.
Along with her furry friends, Easy and Simba, they host a party and spend time interacting with residents.
“They put on the show and are the hosts and hostesses. We just drive them over here,” she said.
For each party, there is a theme and gifts. This month, the dogs supplied cheeseburgers and fries in a tropical paradise themed event.
With each new theme comes a custom outfit for Delilah, Hunsicker said. Since she's too big for clothes “off the rack,” a seamstress makes her clothes to match each outing.
As a therapy dog, the canines are required to meet specific requirements. A dog must be a minimum of one year of age and have a sound temperament.
The dog’s behavior around people who use service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.) is also evaluated. Hunsicker said research has shown that seniors actually benefit from regular contact with animals.
“Therapy dogs are known to relieve anxiety, stress and lower a person's blood pressure,” she said.
Nancy Ritchey of Shreveport said her dog, Simba, is the kind of animal that was born to do service for the community.
“He has the sweetest personality,” Ritchey said. “He's obedient, loving, gentle and really loves people.”
Ritchey rescued Simba in November 2011 from a Rhodesian Rescue in the Fort Worth, Texas area and met Hunsicker through obedience training courses.
After hearing about her work with therapy dogs, Ritchey said she did some research and decided to try it out.“It is the perfect thing for us and it's something I felt we needed to do,” Ritchey said.
Simba is still new to the therapy dog world, but knows when it’s time to do work.
“When I reach for his red collar, he just gets so excited. He knows what we're going to do,” Ritchey said.
Seeing Simba, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was a reminder for Cypress Point resident Judy Malagarie of the dog she had to give away in order to live in the facility.
“I'd give anything to know where that dog is today,” she said.
Delilah, too, was a blast from her past. For 15 years, Malagarie owned a solid white teacup poodle, which she named Honey.
Since it was her first time seeing the therapy dogs, Malagarie said she just wanted to sit and hold Delilah for a while and despite the quick visit, she can't wait to see the dogs again.
Jackie James, activity coordinator at Cypress Point, said the therapy dogs and their owners provide their residents a sense of comfort and, most importantly, happiness.
“I have never met a better group of people. They do this out of the kindness of their hearts and we truly appreciate their efforts to bring a smile to our residents,” James said.
Ethelyn LaHaye of Shreveport it’s the residents, however, that have more of an impact on their lives. She enjoys taking Easy, a five-year-old Walker coonhound she rescued from the Humane Society of Northwest Louisiana, for their monthly visit to Cypress Point.
“Sometimes their family can't visit them so we provide that support for them like a family would,” she said. “We enjoy getting to know the residents and developing friendships with them.”
For more information on Therapy Dogs International, visit their website at www.tdi-dog.org