Canine Caregivers: Dog “Therapists” Trained To Help Elderly, Alzheimer's Patients

A pack of pups is proving to be a big hit in the La Roseliere retirement home in France, where residents just can’t resist the charms of the big silly tail waggers. Other area nursing homes are also starting to experiment with dog therapy.

Golden Retreivers and Black Labs are reputed to be gentle and sociable breeds
Golden Retreivers and Black Labs are reputed to be gentle and sociable breeds
Martine Laronche

KUNHEIM -- Tracy, Dakar, Upton and Virgule are dearly loved at the La Roseliere retirement home in Kunheim, in France's Alsace Region. These four big and energetic dogs come out all paws blazing to fulfill their mission: to provide the facility's guests a jolt of happiness and comfort. Their sheer presence tends to do the trick.

Still, this is a proper job for which the pups were well trained. Their education lasted two years: first in a foster home, then in a specialized center. The three Labradors and one Golden Retriever are well behaved and know not to jump on patients, and not to bark. But they do wiggle their tails a lot.

Looks brighten up when these canine caregivers enter the Alzheimer patients' protected area. The pets receive immediate attention as they sniff and greet patients with their noses. The listless and closed faces light up in front of these lively visitors. An old man pets the black lab and says: "Very very nice, Dakar." Next to him, a woman holds Upton's leash and whispers: "He is well-behaved."

La Roseliere's director, Robert Kohler, first introduced a dog to the people of this retirement home 11 years ago. It wasn't easy at first. Some staff resisted, but his experiment provided an opportunity to debate and brainstorm about the needs of the patients.

"Welcoming a pet demonstrates the facility's openness to the social and cultural rights of the eldery," said the director. "It's a fragile demographic that deserves much more attention than others, even though the current tendency is to ignore them."

Dogs don't judge

The staff has since become convinced of the benefits these pets bring to the guests. The facility houses 127 patients, 30 of whom are in special care for Alzheimer's. Two specialized nurses, Christelle Wolff and Camille Marchall, have been trained to look after the dogs.

"I can see the difference since I've been working with them. Guests use them as a reason to strike up a conversation. It helps with bonding," says Wolff. "Whenever the guests have a bad night or are anxious, we let them spend 45 minutes with a dog. It puts them at peace. I started involving Dakar in bathing time, and a guest who otherwise always wanted out of the water stayed calm thanks to the dog. It was a magical moment."

According to Kohler, the animals help fill many emotional and social voids within the institution. "They provide non verbal communication, which offers comfort and security," he says. "Pets provide unconditional love and affection, and they don't judge."

The dogs are trained and are always under the careful watch of the medical staff. There are a few basic rules that apply. The animals are not allowed in the kitchen, and they have to stay out of the trash. Also, La Roseliere's residents must wash their hands after petting the pooches.

Inspired by his own experience with the dogs, Kohler founded a non-profit for visiting dogs called "Quatre Pattes pour un Sourire" (Four Paws for a Smile). The animals are trained and taken to senior residences free of charge. They visit 23 facilities in the region. There others are wait-listed for lack of appropriate staff.

Today, the organization is staging a pet cleaning workshop at La Roseliere. Participants talk about the dogs' different names, breed and hair color. The conversation is a good memory exercise. One at a time, the dogs climb on to a little table, where residents brush them. "The exercise validates people," says Valerie Behra, a Four Paws for a Smile staff member. "They give the dogs simple orders to see if they'll obey. If it doesn't work, we repeat the command with them so they don't experience failure."

Read the original article in French

Photo - JoshDubya

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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