Many homebound elderly people are deprived of the simple joys of puppy love, but this heartbreaking fact is about to change for some American seniors.

Lacking the financial means or physical ability to care for a pet meant they had to give up the companionship they enjoyed for so many years. Fortunately, a nonprofit called Caregiver Canines is officially going national, and will be connecting four-legged visitors with seniors in Texas and Pennsylvania beginning this

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After a successful six-year run using therapy dogs–many of them, adopted rescue pups–in New Jersey, the group has partnered with the National Volunteer Caregiving Network to launch pilot programs around the country. Caregiver Canines is providing them with all of the guidance and materials they need to kick the program into high gear.

“Elderly who are homebound feel the loss of a dog in their lives very deeply. They generally are life-long dog owners, but sadly, find themselves at a time in their life when their medical or financial situation does not allow them to have a pet,” explains Lynette Whiteman, the Caregiver Canines founder and director.

Whiteman works for Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, a program that assists homebound and disabled elderly with vital tasks so they can remain independent. Many of the seniors are suffering from dementia and various physical ailments, so during home visits Lynette often found it hard to engage them in conversation.

But whenever she asked if they’d had a dog, it completely changed the game.

“They would light up right away, go off to find pictures of dogs they had, and start talking about them,” said Lynette. “I thought, ‘There are therapy dogs brought into nursing homes, so why don’t we bring them into peoples’ homes?'”

Cecilia-with-dogs-CaregiverCanines-submittedOne of those dogs is Daisy, a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel who was rescued from a shelter in South Carolina. She goes with her owner, Barbara, to visit 88-year-old Violet, who is immobile because of bilateral knee replacement surgery and unable to move at home without assistance.

Violet had a Cocker Spaniel when she was a little girl, and Daisy’s visits bring back wonderful memories. Daisy always jumps up on the couch to sit right by Violet, and Violet pets her head, cuddles her, and repeats over and over how beautiful she is.

“I always had dogs, but I can’t take care of them anymore because of my knee. I’m always excited to see Daisy. She’s so sweet, she gives me all these little kisses,” said Violet. “I wish there were more people that were able to do what Barbara’s doing.”

Before leaving, Barbara always puts the date of their next visit on Violet’s calendar so she has something to look forward to.grandpa-gets-puppy-YouTubeGrab

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“Daisy had a hard life before she was adopted. She and Violet relate to each other. They are both old and have their infirmities, but they make each other happy.”

You can help by spreading the word for the nonprofit group, Friends for Life, in Waco, Texas, which is on the hunt for therapy dogs in their area. The Share Care Faith in Action in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is also looking. These groups will have the right to use the name “Caregiver Canines” if they follow the guidelines CVCJ set up to preserve the integrity of the program and the safety of people visited.

“Many of our clients have had dogs, either growing up or in their younger years, and truly miss having a pet around,” said Lynn Marie Heiney, Executive Director of Share Care Faith In Action. “I believe receiving a visit from a therapy dog will ease people’s depression and isolation and totally brighten their lives.”

The plan is to offer the service to about 130 sites nationwide.

“It’s really exciting,” said Whiteman. “I’m so glad that other lonely people are going to be able to experience this type of joy.”

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