Lending a Helping Paw

Around 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization.

In addition to memory loss, patients of dementia—the most common form being Alzheimer’s—often feel lonely, agitated, bored, helpless, anxiety and/or sadness.

Fortunately, for residents at Lockport’s The Broadway Elder Living and Rehabilitation who have dementia and other medical conditions, a new well-trained certified professional is here to assist them and make their days easier—one furry hug at a time.

Since last summer, when Bailey Mae was only 8 weeks old, she has been bringing smiles to residents of the Broadway—the non-profit organization that houses senior citizens going through short-term rehabilitation and those going for long-term living assistance.

“They absolutely love her,” says Courtney Carrere Sanford, Admissions and Marketing Director for The Broadway, Bayou Area Walk To End Alzheimer’s Walk Chair/Founder and caretaker for Bailey Mae. “Our residents can’t have their own pets. And that’s one of the things that’s hard for our residents…So Bailey is that replacement for them…She’s that animal that’s there to comfort them, to show them that they still have someone; they still have that loving, caring touch.”

With Alzheimer’s being a disease close to her heart—seeing it affect her family members at a young age— Courtney joined the Alzheimer’s Association. During a trip to Washington D.C. for the organization, she learned about therapy dogs from a professional in the field.

“…One of the things that this lady talked about was pet therapy and how soothing animals are. And she went through this whole spiel about different things that you can do with dogs, or really with any type of pets,” Courtney remembers. “I was like, ‘Gosh, that would be amazing for this area!’”

Last year, Courtney bought one of the Golden Retriever puppies her neighbor had bred. After years of researching therapy dogs, Courtney knew this dog would be a great fit for The Broadway.

After the months that followed of the young pup getting well acquainted to everyone at the facility, she was sent to Rodrigue’s Cajun K-9—a local dog training program that would able to officially train Bailey so she could become certified.

During the two-month training camp, Courtney explained, the trainers first focused on obedience: making sure Bailey stayed in place, didn’t jump on people, didn’t go up to people until they called for her, etc. Then, she went through the therapy side—learning how to stay calm by putting her through situations such as standing near a bull and riding next to a four wheeler.

“I brought her to the home and did a demo for them, and those people really enjoyed it,” says Eddie Rodrigue, owner of Rodrigue’s Cajun K-9. “So I think it is really going to bring some joy in their life—to have her come in and out every day and be able to play with her.”

Not only is Bailey bringing happiness to the home every day, she’s also very therapeutic for those striving to recover or, at least, get back to some normalcy.

“I see a lot of families that are dealing with different types of dementia. There’s little triggers that if they go off, they go into one of their moments where they’re really confused or anxious. The little things that deter them from the thing that they’re scared of or confused about is really important,” Courtney explains. “So what Bailey does for us at the Broadway is be that kind of comforting factor. She is there to get their mind off the confusion.”

Bailey is one busy Golden Retriever. After she walks through the doors of The Broadway at 8 each morning, she doesn’t stop interacting and helping (besides her afternoon nap, of course) residents—even the ones that are bedbound—of the facility until she leaves in the evening. She will even soon do school visits, and Courtney is in talks with local hospitals to have Bailey visit patients who are going to be short-term recovery residents of the Broadway.

“…Just like the Broadway is a nonprofit for the community, Bailey is the community’s therapy dog,” says Courtney, who recently won the National Association of Social Workers Houma-Thibodaux Region’s 2019 Public Citizen of The Year award, which she largely attributes to Bailey. “One of the biggest things I can say is getting involved with community is so important…You feel good about it. You enjoy it; you love helping others. And that’s really what Bailey brings to the table is that joy and making everybody happy.” POV