Hard work but rewarding – with a dog in the nursing home
Rosi is the star of the show every two weeks. That is when the Labrador visits a nursing home in Mannheim with her owner Bianca Matt and plays with residents and lets them stroke her. For the elderly people this is a welcome change to their daily routine, for Rosi and her owner it is hard work but rewarding.
Bianca Matt regularly visits a nursing home in Mannheim with her Labrador Rosi.
It all started in April 2014, when Matt was a working student for Bilfinger in the HR department. Her dog trainer, who also trains therapy dogs for the Malteser organization, brought the work to the young woman’s attention. Contact was initially made through Bianca Matt’s mother, who at that time was working in a nursing home in Mannheim as a care assistant. “I liked the idea that other people could benefit from Rosi and her playfulness and affection as well,” says the 29 year old. “Also, Rosi is very lively and needs to learn how to hold back from time to time.”
The visits to the nursing home are a challenge for both of them. Unusual smells, strange noises and equipment such as walking frames and wheelchairs await the almost four year old dog. However, Bianca Matt must always be extremely careful that Rosi listens to her commands and isn’t sniffing around, licking things or getting bored. “Just stroking is not enough,” she highlighted. That is why Rosi always has her toy pig with her. As soon as the residents are holding it, they have Rosi’s undivided attention. The soft toy flies through the air and is caught and shaken again and again. “These moments just fill you with joy,” says Matt.
Bianca Matt and Rosi spend a maximum of 30 minutes every two weeks in the nursing home. Always at the weekend, because Matt has been working as a Junior HR Business Partner at Bilfinger Global IT for nearly year and a half. “After the visits, Rosi first has to let off steam. Then she is allowed to run riot and does not have to obey for a few minutes. Back home, she usually falls asleep exhausted,” reports the Bilfinger employee. “That shows just how tiring this time is for her.” And Matt herself has to take a deep breath: “I hadn’t previously had any contact with people with dementia. When I leave the nursing home I am always a little bit sentimental and take my hat off to the people who are there every day taking care of the residents.”
Bianca Matt highlights a particularly emotional moment in the nursing home: “There was a resident who was no longer mobile and not responsive. However, a carer knew that the woman used to have dogs. Together with my dog trainer, we visited her in her room. We laid a blanket on the bed, Rosi jumped up and laid down next to the women. She noticed the dog, moved her hand a little and Rosi nudged her with her nose and moved her head into the woman’s hand until she was stroking Rosi behind her ears with her finger. The dog and the woman communicated in a very special way.”
Bianca Matt is sure that many people underestimate the effect animals can have: “When Rosi comes into the home, the residents’ eyes light up. Being able to share the joy I have in my dog makes me happy. And if I am in a nursing home later in life, I would also be grateful for a visit from a dog.”
There is special training for dogs that visit nursing homes. Rosi has not had this training, however has been used to obedience school, training areas and training since she was a puppy. Labradors are particularly suitable for such work because they like to interact and are keen to please.
“When Rosi comes into the home, the residents’ eyes light up."