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Healthy Seniors: Service dogs in training help patients in Cañon City

 CAÑON CITY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Studies show that owning a pet can potentially delay memory loss and cognitive decline. They can also lower anxiety and depression, as well as improve overall health by calming us down and releasing endorphins.

Our news partners at ABC7 spoke to a sociology doctoral candidate and National Institute of Health predoctoral fellow about a study that looked at the duration of pet ownership on cognitive health. The findings of that study suggest that long-term pet ownership could be protective against cognitive decline.

Nancy Bartkowiak is the trauma program manager at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City. But that's not her only job when she's there, she's also a dog handler.

"It's like a wave through the hospital when I arrive because everybody knows that I have a dog here today," says Nancy Bartkowiak.

Bartkowiak works with service dogs on their social skills for a few months before they are placed in their forever home. Where the dog will be taking care of someone who's disabled.

"She gets to come to work with me and they get to go to meetings with me and visit with staff and patients."

Bartkowiak has had 16 dogs during the last three years and is currently working with Gibby. The black lab who's making everyone's hospital trip a little bit easier.

"The emotions people have she and I walk up on the floor or walk through a lobby and people get to say hello and pet the dog."

Bartkowiak says St. Thomas More is a great place for Gibby to learn community skills before she gets some final training and her ultimate placement. But Gibby's not the only one benefiting from this, senior patients are also having positive hospital visits.

"The seniors, they absolutely love for me to walk up to them and they want to know all about the dog and why it's here and they pet its head and you can just see the smile on their face and that coming to the hospital wasn't so bad after all."

Getting older can be lonely, and pets can be helpful to talk to and they also lower blood sugar. They're also great for overall brain health when it comes to memory and remembering to take care of an animal. Dogs can also push physical well-being if you are going on walks and other outdoor activities.

Article Topic Follows: Health
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Brynn Carman

Brynn is an anchor on Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Brynn here.

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