Debbie Hommel's A.D. Tips
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by Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC, CTRS, Executive Director of DH Special Services
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Executive Director
DH Special Services
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC,
CTRS, is the Executive
Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified
Activity Consultant on State
and National level, with over
twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct
care and consultation to long
term care, medical day care,
assisted living, and ICF/MR
facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania. She is an
experienced trainer and
workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of
seminars throughout the
Tri-State area for the Activity
Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare
professional. Debbie Hommel
is an active member of Activity
Professional Associations on
State and National levels. She
is ACC certified through the
NCCAP. She is a founding
member of the New Jersey
Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as
Vice President and President.
She received the Weidner
Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1994 and the Monmouth &
Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life
Achievement Award in 1999.
Let Debbie answer your
Activity Questions
Providing Internet Resources
for Activity Professionals
in Long Term Care Settings

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“Man's Best Friend”
Pet Facilitated Therapy in Long Term Care – Part II
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

As a new activity director in 1979, I received a call from the director of the local animal
shelter.  The director of the shelter had read an article on the benefits of the pet/person
relationship and she wanted to bring the shelter’s puppies to our facility.  She thought
the puppies would benefit from the socialization and the residents would enjoy holding
the puppies and watching them play.  After several phone calls, my administrator
obtained approval from the Department of Health, as there were no regulations
governing pets in nursing homes at that time.    The puppies began visiting weekly and
the residents loved it, as you would expect.  A few weeks later, while sitting in a
departmental meeting, I was bothered by itchy forearms but did not think much about it.  
The Director of Nursing was giving her report and she shared the dermatologist was
coming because a mysterious rash which looked like ringworm had erupted on a
number of the residents.  The administrator asked “where does ringworm come from”
and the nurse quickly said “usually from animals”.  The room silenced and everyone
turned and looked at me, while I was scratching my arms.  All at once, we realized
where the ringworm had come from – our adorable visiting puppies from the shelter.  
That could have been the end of pet therapy in long term care as well as the end of my
career as an activity professional.  However, I worked for a wonderful administrator who
saw the benefits derived from the visiting puppies and he was not about to let a rash
deter the future of the program, nor my career.  After several phone calls to the shelter
and the State Department of Health, our state government issued formal regulations for
pets in health care facilities.  With new policies and protocols, our visiting puppy
program flourished and continued for years – rash free.

We have learned a lot in the 30+ years where pets have not only visited but now reside
in many care facilities.  Many states now have formal regulations to guide the
development of the program.  In addition, much literature and research has been
offered by many organizations devoted to animal facilitated therapy in long term care.  
The following suggestions should be considered when introducing pets to your
-. The first step in introducing pets to your community would be to identify any state
regulations regarding pets.  There are no federal regulations, so we must abide by
state regulations if they are defined.  Eighteen states have specific regulations
regarding pets in nursing homes.  The length and intensity of the regulations vary from
state to state.  Although the regulations may vary, they all focus on maintaining the
health and wellbeing of the pet, prohibiting the pet from food preparation and serving
areas and the care and maintenance of the pet.  You can see if your state has specific
regulations for pets on the web site at the end of this article.  
-. Once you determine if your state has specific guidelines for pets in your community,
you will need to create a program based on the requirements.  If your state does not
have specific guidelines, you will still need to define your own standards regarding
maintaining the cleanliness of the facility as well as ensuring the safety and wellbeing
of your residents in their contact with the pet.  
-.  The next decision should be shared with the staff and residents of your community.  
Should the facility adopt a residential pet or just have visiting pets?  What type of pet
should be introduced to the community?  Dogs? Cats? Puppies?  Kittens? Fish?
Birds? Rabbits?  Ferrets?  A survey of staff and residents should be conducted to
identify those with a strong interest in participating and those with misgivings.  If there
are staff or residents fearful of or allergic to animals, this needs to be addressed prior
to the pets arriving.  
-.  Once the parameters of the program are established, someone should be
designated responsible for the pet program. Usually, this is the activity department.  
Duties would include maintaining pertinent records associated with the visiting or
residential pets, care and maintenance of any residential pets, maintaining policies
associated with the program, and being the contact person for families bringing their
pets to visit.
-.  Policies and procedures should be established to define and support the program.  If
a residential pet is introduced, very clear policies should be introduced to define care
and cleanliness of the pet, defining pet free areas in the home, maintaining cleanliness
of the home and disposing of pet waste.  Additionally polices for visiting pets should be
created outlining the screening method to introduce family pets and the necessary
health records that should be on file.  Finally, a budget should be established for the
care of any residential pets.  Pet food, bedding materials and veterinarian costs should
have a separate line item in the facility budget.  

Helpful Links for Animal Facilitated Therapy

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about
living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and
following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things - a walk in the
woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and
achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about
friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”
                     John Grogan, Marley and Me, 2005