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Dog brings little piece of home to care facility

by ROB NIELSEN Yankton Press & Dakotan on January 07, 2014 11:00 AM

BERESFORD, S.D. — Despite only being 8 years old, Giuseppe has practically been a part of the Bethesda Nursing home staff since August. A model employee, he shows up to work on time every day, is well-mannered, knows a few tricks, was festively dressed for the holidays and loves to keep Bethesda’s residents and staff entertained.

He’s also a border collie/black Lab mix.

Giuseppe’s owner, LPN April Smythe, adopted Giuseppe from the humane society in Bemidji, Minn., when the pup was just 6 weeks old. She said his visits started in August — sporadically at first but gradually becoming more consistent.

[PHOTO: In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, Giuseppe and his owner April Smythe pose for a photo as they spread a little Christmas spirit at the Bethesda Nursing Home in Beresford, S.D. (AP Photo/Yankton Press & Dakotan, Rob Nielsen)]

“We were talking at lunch one day about wanting a nursing home dog and I said I would bring in my dog,” Smythe said. “After that conversation, I just started bringing him to visit. (Giuseppe and I) would sit outside with a couple of residents on my days off. Then I asked if I could just bring him in. Then I brought him once or twice per week. On the days I didn’t bring him, people would get upset that he wasn’t there and they’d be asking me, so now I have to bring him in every day.”

Giuseppe became a hit with the 63 residents at Bethesda. Administrator Patrick Berry said that Giuseppe only needed to be up to date on vaccinations to be around the residents. He added Giuseppe’s always been on his best behavior around the home.

“He’s very well-trained,” Berry said. “Everyone comments on how well-trained he truly is.”

Smythe said the addition of a dog has been popular among residents.

“We mainly stick to the halls,” she said. “There’s quite a few residents that just go out of their way to come find him. On my days off, they’re constantly in the nurse’s area asking where the dog is. They love him.”

Berry said Giuseppe brings a little piece of home to residents, especially those who were once dog owners themselves.

“One of our goals has always been to make it a home-like environment,” Berry said. “I think a lot of these residents grew up with dogs or had a dog at some time in their life. And with pet therapy — they’ve done a lot of studies that it’s beneficial for residents and staff alike. We all benefit from him being here.”

Smythe recounted the case of a resident at Bethesda that immediately took to Giuseppe.

“(One resident) was really having issues with depression,” she said. “We were changing her antidepressants and really working a lot on that. As soon as I started bringing the dog in, we didn’t increase her antidepressants after that. She just responded so well to him.”

Of course, Giuseppe also entertains residents with a number of tricks that he’s learned over the years. He also has a surprising grasp of a foreign language.

“He knows a few tricks in Spanish because my mom is Dominican and I lived in an apartment for a while where I couldn’t keep him, so he lived with my mom who took all his tricks and taught them to him in Spanish,” Smythe said.

Giuseppe’s tricks include sit, lay, roll over, high-five, jumping, hugging and taking a bow. Smythe said the dog is normally docile — only getting particularly riled up when it snows.

“He’ll get excited when it snows and run around outside like crazy,” she said. “Otherwise when he’s inside, he’ll just be (calm).”

Berry said he’s been pleased with the impact Giuseppe has had at Bethesda.

“I’ve seen pet-therapy dogs in other facilities,” he said. “If you ever think of a pet-therapy dog, he’s the ideal dog. His behavior, his mannerisms, the way he interacts with the residents — he’s just the ideal dog for a long-term care facility like this.”

Additionally, Smythe said working alongside her dog each day has brought her closer to him.

“It’s been awesome getting to bring my dog to work,” she said. “We were close before, but now I’m attached to him constantly all day long.”

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