...Jewish Home Find Dogs are Good for Well-Being - Commercial Appeal - 11/26/2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

By Lesley Young

When the maintenance crew at Memphis Jewish Home and Rehabilitation Center had to build an extra room for two new expected residents, they installed the door knobs a little lower than normal.

There was always a chance that Stormy and Speedy might want to let themselves out.

Stormy and Speedy are sibling greyhounds that retired from racing in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and took up residence at the Cordova home a little more than a year ago.

Their racing days might be over, but greyhounds Stormy and Speedy still like to cut loose down the halls of Memphis Jewish Home. "They have been loved ever since they came in the door," said Alene Roberts, the home's activity coordinator.

Danny Hoxie, who handles some of the maintenance around Memphis Jewish Home and Rehabilitation Center, is one of the staff members who care for the dogs.

"They have been loved ever since they came in the door," said Alene Roberts, the home's activity coordinator.

The lanky canines were adopted from the Mid-South Greyhound Adoption Option in May 2010 in an effort to benefit the health of residents and visiting rehabilitation patients.

So far, so good.

"Everybody just loves them, even the people who are here for a short time," said Jole Ashner, community relations director for the facility. "They really just brighten everyone's day."

Allen and Kay Iskiwitz created an endowment for the

160-bed facility to fund all of Speedy and Stormy's needs, including visiting groomers, food and lots and lots of treats.

"They know exactly which rooms to go to. They know who has treats," Ashner said.

They are particularly fond of Rebecca Franklin, 98, who has lived at the home for nine years.

"They used to be my buddies all the time, until the rest of (the residents) started feeding them, too," Franklin said. "They will come to my room and look in, and if I'm sleeping, they'll lick my feet."

Studies show that pet ownership can boost serotonin levels, lower blood pressure and extend life spans.

"There is a study that shows among stockbrokers who had high blood pressure, their blood pressure was lowered if they had a pet," said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"Studies also show that heart attack survivors lived longer if they had pets, and petting or playing with a dog or cat can raise levels of serotonin. They're just good for your physical and mental well-being."

In a 2001 study published by the American Heart Association, responses to mental stress were significantly lower among pet owners who received blood pressure medication lisinopril relative to those who received only the medication.

"Sometimes we use them as motivation to get the patients down here. We'll say, 'Stormy and Speedy might be in therapy,'" said physical therapist assistant Lindsey Williams.

"They help with functional skills, such as reaching to give them a treat, or touching them," added rehabilitation director Paul Evans.

When times are tough and a patient is ready to give up during a rehab session, Speedy and Stormy sweep in and save the day.

"If a patient gets frustrated because they are not able to do something they once could, the dogs will get them talking and reminiscing about the pets they had or other stories from their past," said Janet Bush, resident speech pathologist. "They help us connect with the patients a lot better. They get the patients on the same level."

Staff members of Downtown's RedRover Sales and Marketing always have a better day at the office when it is pet day.

"I think it fosters greater creativity, and it's good for stress reduction. When it's a stressful day and you have your nose to the grindstone, they just lighten the mood," said Lori Turner, owner of the Memphis RedRover firm. "Plus you worry less about them being home alone all day."

That's not something Stormy and Speedy worry about too much.

They have 100 residents to keep them company, 60 temporary rehabilitation patients, and a full staff to walk them throughout the day and at night.

Using the endowment, which is set up to always provide pets for the home, staff members chose greyhounds specifically because of their personality and size.

"Greyhounds have the best temperament for a population like this. They are always on an even keel and calm. Plus, they are the right height for people in wheelchairs or lying in bed. And they don't have much dander," said C.J. Casanova, administrative liaison for the home.

"We knew we wanted two, and two who were used to being together. We were fortunate we got a brother and sister," Casanova said. "It's sort of who owns whom around here. Very few people don't care for them, especially when they show how they can run."

That's inside, down a long hallway, where they promptly make a left at the end.

"That's the therapy room. They know therapy has treats," Casanova said.