Always approach the person slowly from the front. Smile. Do not startle them. Wait until the person seems ready to listen. Gently touch their hand or arm and make eye contact if needed. Ask if they would like a visit with the animal. Bring your animal closer. Watch for body language. Introduce yourself and your pet. Protect the animal from equipment and present the animal to the person so it cannot be easily poked in the face. Try to use the person’s name. You may need to move their chair or check to see if you should visit from a particular side. Be aware of furniture, wheelchairs, food on the floor, other people and watch for the reaction of the client and your pet.
Speak clearly and raise your voice slightly if the person is hard of hearing. If they are in bed, try to get your pet on a chair or sometimes even in the bed if they want and it is safe, so the person can see. If they are going to hold your pet, place the pet in their lap, never in their arms, and hold onto the pet until you are sure it is safe to let go. When placing an animal on the lap, ensure that you keep the animals face away from the persons face, make sure you can see your animals face.
The person may wish to touch or stroke the animal. You may need to help them move their hand or be careful of how and where they are touching the animal. Remember, some people have problems with loss of hearing, sight or memory. The person may want to give your pet a treat. If your pet will be accepting treats, make sure you know if they take a treat from the fingers or an open hand. If you do not want your pet to have treats, simply explain that it makes the animal’s tummy sick so the person will not feel rejected by the pet. The person may want to groom the pet or play with it with toys if you have brought any. If your pet wants to lie down while you are visiting, that is all right.
Watch for the reaction of the person with your pet. If they grab a leash or collar and will not let go, have another leash handy, be ready to unclip your pet. Watch for rough handling and keep your pet safe.
Your conversations will usually be general and not very long. Watch for signs that the persons are tiring or losing focus or that your pet is tiring and end the visit when this happens.
Closure is very important. It lets the person know that you and your animal have enjoyed the visit and that you are saying good bye for now. Thank him/her for having you in his/her room or having a chat and tell him/her what will happen next “We have to go to another room” or to see another person now”. Say goodbye to “your pet’s name”. “We will be back next time.”
If the person does not want you to leave, say something like, “We have to go to visit other people now, but we will come back another time”. Or you can use the animal. “Buddy looks thirsty, I’d better go and get him a drink” or “I think buddy has to go to the bathroom, we’d better go now”. Be careful when you are visiting a group of people in a room. Even if the person seems unaware, treat him/her with the same courtesy and respect as the other people you are seeing that day.
After the Visit
After you visit, give your pet a drink and give it a chance to relieve itself. Provide it some time for unstructured exercise and play. Use touch and massage for relaxation. Let the animal rest in an undisturbed area and give it at least one day of rest before visiting again.
Set aside some time to reflect on your visit. What went well? What would you do differently next time? Always check your schedule to see when you will be visiting again.