Therapy dogs bring holiday cheer to Austin nursing home

Those that live at a nursing home sometimes don't get many visitors over the holidays, but this year the people at the Walnut Hills Nursing Center had a special surprise from three furry friends.

“It's real nice to have them come on Christmas Eve to give you something else to think about,” said Nelda Neal who has lived at Walnut Hills for a little more than a year.

For two hours, the nursing center went to the therapy dogs.

“It calms you down. I suffer with an anxiety problems and it calms you down real good to pet the dogs and have them play around with you and everything. You forget your problems,” said Neal.

“There's something about bringing an animal into a nursing home, that when the animals come, it brings back our childhood,” said Janet Warnke who has lived at the nursing center for 15 years.

Watching frowns turn into smiles is something handler Andi Donner sees every time she takes her 2-year-old Great Dane, Molly, to visit rehab facilities.

“It's so much fun to go visit with people and watch their faces light up,” said Donner.

Molly and Donner don’t just visit patients at nursing homes.

“Molly helps children read who have reading disabilities and she doesn't judge them, so it makes it easier on the kids. She also works at a class we call ‘job skills’ where she works with children that have disabilities and they need to learn a job skill, like how to bathe a dog, how to groom a dog, how to train them, so they can get a job at a pet store or at a vets clinic,” said Donner.

“It's just awesome to see the opportunities that these people have because they got to work with a dog that they could just feel comfortable with,” Donner added.

Thursday afternoon, the only thing Molly was concerned about was spreading puppy love.

“A lot of people can't get to their family... So these people need someone to come brighten their day, make it less of a holiday blues that they can't see who they want to see,” Donner said.

“There's something about animals that I've always just poured my heart out. You can get hurt by humans, but a dog is there for you until it dies,” said Warmke.

Studies show that therapy dogs can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and help patients develop motor skills.

This year alone the Austin Dog Alliance had 130 therapy dogs that made visits to hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.

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