Our response to COVID-19 >>

Elderly woman playing with dog smiling at United Hebrew's Pet therapy event.

Pet Therapy Helps Seniors Thrive at United Hebrew

Tinsley, a three-legged, three-year-old, 25-pound American White Eskimo mix, was thrown out of a car when she was a five-month old puppy. She was rescued by Stephanie Bostaph, a New Rochelle resident, who saw in Tinsley, now an amputee, a sweet nature that she wanted to share. “She is calm and docile in any setting, and that led me to think about training her as a pet therapy dog,” says Bostaph.

Tinsley and Bostaph are now a pet therapy team certified through the Good Dog Foundation, which requires re-certification annually through a rigorous training process. Together they visit United Hebrew of New Rochelle’s nursing home each month for hour-long interactive sessions in which residents are able to pet, hold, and talk to Tinsley.

The pet visits are designed to bring comfort, ease anxiety, and lift the spirits of our residents, some of whom are otherwise non-responsive. Studies show that animal-assisted therapy improves the overall mental health of older adults, including those seniors with dementia, for whom pets reduce agitation and increase social behaviors.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

“Pets make us feel good,” says Dr. Elaine Healy, United Hebrew’s vice president of medical affairs. “But they offer health benefits as well. After a pet therapy session, we see our residents brighten. Their mood is elevated. They’re moving more and smiling more.”

For United Hebrew resident Dorothy DiNapoli, Tinsley brings peaceful feelings. “I feel a sense of calm when Tinsley visits,” she says. “He always seems to know when something is bothering me, and he makes me feel better.”

For her part, Bostaph says that during their visits, she sees residents—some of whom are non-verbal and physically limited—relax, engage, and smile. “Their eyes light up!” Bostaph, who raised by her single mother and her grandparents, has been volunteering with seniors since she was in middle school. “I’ve always had a strong connection to older adults,” she explains, “so, it really makes me happy to volunteer here.”

What’s good for our residents is good for our staff, as well, notes Dr. Healy.

“Tinsley and a few other furry friends improve the well-being of our entire community at United Hebrew,” she notes. “The effects of a pet therapy are visit are felt long after our canine friends have left.”

United Hebrew offers pet therapy as part of its robust therapeutic activity program, which also includes music, art, and movement therapy, as well as an array of social, cultural, recreational and fitness programs.