(BERLIN, Md.) - Pet therapy - It's a growing trend that's turning heads and wagging tails everywhere; and now folks on Delmarva are reaping its benefits.
"Often times as we age, we lose our pets and then the thought of having another pet is hard, it's unmanageable for a lot of people. So to have [my dogs] here, it's like [the residents] have their own pet without having to manage it, so it's great for them," said Mari Bohall, marketing director of Gull Creek Senior Living Community.
Bohall is a proud mother to two Golden Retrievers, Happy and Mojito. She says every day, they accompany her to work and say 'hello' to all the residents. She calls it the "perfect scenario."
"They're starting to take over our lobby, which is a good thing because I want them front and center. They're very gentle, they're not going to hurt anybody. They keep their distance when they know they have to keep their distance. If somebody is shaky on their feet, they're not right underneath them."
Bohall says the residents are always very happy when they see Happy and Mojito. She says the girls have become a part of their lives.
"If you've ever owned a pet before and you come home and the one thing you can't wait to walk in the door and see is your dog who's wagging his tail and he wants to see you, same thing here but I have 88 people waiting to see that tail wag," said Bohall.
But the two pups do more than just socialize and eat treats all day. They have a very important job to do.
"The senior population does really well with pets. It's actually a health benefit to them. It just makes their day good. They wait for the dogs every day, they pet on the dogs, they love on the dogs. They're their dogs and my responsibility," laughed Bohall. "So, it's a perfect mix."
Bohall says this type of pet therapy is great for the residents as it benefits them both physically and mentally.
"Statistically petting a dog can lower your blood pressure. It can relieve stress," explained Bohall. "It just is a really reaffirming action. It's love. So it allows people to relieve their stress. When they're petting a dog, they're feeling good about that moment."
Even the residents agree the girls make life 'paws-itively paw-some.'
"[The dogs] are wonderful. We like them better than the people," joked Susan Connor, Gull Creek resident. "They're just great. They're just very comforting, loving and delightful."
"They don't talk back to you," laughed Wanda Cosgrove, Gull Creek resident. "They're just nice. It's a calming thing I think for older people. They make everything much more pleasant around here."
Bohall says she didn't always know right away if the girls would fulfill the therapy dog role, but she always hoped they would, especially after having her former pet, Trip, who is still remembered through a notarized proclamation hanging in the front hallway. Bohall says the residents gave it to her as a gift after Trip passed away.
"Trip was a natural. She just came in and she was just a natural at it," said Bohall. "The girls were a little more shy [at first], but they have really come a long way."
Bohall says Golden Retrievers make the best therapy dog due to their mellow, intuitive nature.
"They're pleasers, they want to please you," said Bohall. "So if they think they're not pleasing you, they're not happy... and they want to be happy, so they work really hard at pleasing everybody."
Pet therapy is also used in schools, community programs and hospitals; but Bohall says she would like to see more pets in more senior buildings because of the wonderful effect it has on the residents.
"It's something new, and of course, you have to safeguard yourself to make sure your pet is gentle, has his shots and everything is up to date, but the positive reaction [from the residents] is so much better than not having [a dog] in a building," said Bohall.