Bringing smiles to vets
Sophie visits King residents daily
By Holly Neumann
When Nursing Home Director Tammy Servatius goes to work at Stordock Hall at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, her little dog Sophie goes with her.
“Sophie has been coming to the nursing home since she was old enough to be away from her mother,” Servatius said. “She was raised around wheelchairs, alarms, buzzers and patients.”
Considered an emotional support, Sophie works eight hours a day, five days per week and occasionally a weekend at the facility.
“Our goal was to bring some veterans out of their shells and rooms due to the responsibility of having something to care for,” Servatius said. “In turn, Sophie gives unconditional love, enjoyment and a calming feeling.”
Social worker Jen Shaw has even developed plans for Sophie so that the visits have a purpose.
“Sophie starts her day typically by attending the morning stand-up meeting,” Servatius said. “From there social workers take Sophie to their floors to spend time with the veterans.”
She meets them all with joy and enthusiasm.
“Sophie takes a quick run about the unit, stopping to see the members in the lobby,” Shaw said. “She then greets the staff and hits up the members in their rooms for treats.”
Sometimes Sophie is even called upon to help patients who have various forms of dementia.
“It always amazes me that someone with advanced dementia will remember Sophie’s name and always greet her with a smile,” said Servatius.
Shaw has also identified veterans who used to have pets or who have a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, PTSD or who could benefit from time spent with the little dog.
“Sending Sophie in seems to break the ice,” Servatius said. “We have one particular veteran who cares more for Sophie throughout the week. He has a great sense of pride taking her around and showing her off.”
From going for walks, taking naps, playing fetch or just sitting and watching squirrels the veterans love her presence.
One of her favorite people to spend time with is Joe McGlin.
“Sophie will sit patiently for the staff to let her in to see Joe,” said Shaw. “Joe and Sophie formed a special bond as he was the first member she spent time with when she started to come to King.”
The duo spend time together chasing squirrels, leaves or anything else that moves.
“I love that little dog,” McGlin said. “I was lonely before she came. She gives me something to look forward to.”
He admits that he is more active now that she is around.
“I even try to walk more,” he said.
McGlin laughs as he talks about how Sophie got away from him at one time.
“I was outside with her and she was barking at the squirrels,” he said. “All of a sudden she was gone. I had a heck of a time catching her. I sure do love her, even when she is naughty.”
Without a doubt Sophie has made a name for herself.
Visitors to Stordock Hall bring her treats and residents even sent her get well cards when she got fixed over the summer.
“That dog is a beautiful pup,” Mark Marineau said. “She is a great friend.”
Veterans report that they feel less depressed and have a sense of purpose.
“Sophie will go from room to room of the Veterans. She has built relationships with them and seems to know what they need from her,” Servatius said. “Sometimes it is just lying on the bed with them and watching TV.”
Even the staff take advantage of time with the little dog.
“Staff have stressful days as well and often you will find staff coming across camp for a cuddle or to take her for a walk on their lunch breaks,” Servatius said.
Both Shaw and Servatius agree that the benefits of having a dog at Stordock Hall are many.
Servatius said that just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
“The result; heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop,” she said. “Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke. This is why pets for the elderly can be so beneficial and gives a renewed interest in life.”
Pet therapy is also known to help alleviate some of the depressions, PTSD and other illnesses.
“We have seen a tremendous improvement in our members with PTSD and depression,” said Shaw. “Those members are more engaged, not only with Sophie but also with peers, staff and family. We have witnessed those members come out of their room more frequently. More importantly, we have seen the members Sophie works with notice the improvement she has had on their own lives.”
Shaw went on to say that Stordock Hall is fortunate to have the leadership in the building to support and advocate for having a facility pet.
“We are still learning how we can best spread Sophie’s unconditional love and acceptance to everyone who would like her,” she said. “In the short time she has been in Stordock Hall, she has made a world of difference to those she has touched.”