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Bright and Beautiful

He's not on the payroll and doesn't even have an SSN, but already, evaluations for this newest employee in Bayview's Elder Plus Program are strictly paws-up

Selby with a patient and Anne Fraim, PT assistant.

Faces light up when he walks into the room. Hands reach out to touch him. Is it the long, golden hair? Those deep, brown eyes? That gentle, loving demeanor? Ask Elder Plus participants what it is that attracts them to Selby, and they'll tell you it's all that and more.

The two-year old Golden Retriever is the newest member of the staff of Elder Plus, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center program that provides care for those who wish to avoid premature admission to a nursing home and remain in the community. Selby is a skilled companion dog trained to help people with the activities of daily living. He has received more than six months of advanced training and has mastered 45 specialized commands in the Canine Companions for Independence program, a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.

Selby can do things like turn lights on and off, open and close doors, and help people get out of chairs. But because Elder Plus is a program that encourages participants to become more mobile on their own, his role at Bayview is more subtle. When participants arrive at the Day Health Center, Selby is on hand to greet them. When they need exercise, he's there to be brushed or walked. He can tug off a sock or retrieve wayward scraps of quilting material for the sewing group. But mainly, he's there to love and be loved. "He's our best motivator. He gets participants moving and interacting with one another," says Elder Plus physical therapy assistant Anne Fraim.

Charged with Selby's direct supervision, Fraim gives the dog a home and makes sure he receives proper nutrition and exercise. "Staff and participants alike look forward to seeing him everyday. Selby has changed the environment here." In fact, studies show that for older people, who often lack social networks and recreational opportunities, having a dog on the lap or on a leash can boost happiness, help lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress level, and maintain or even enhance levels of activities of daily living.

Since last spring, Selby has been putting in 5-hour days, four days a week at Bayview's Day Health Center. He makes his way around the entire center, which can have as many as 70 attendees per day, but spends most of his time in the rehab services suite, seeing its some 20 participants. At the end of each day, they mumble goodbye to Fraim. But they make sure to tell Selby they'll see him tomorrow. They give him a hug, a rub on the ear, a hearty pat. "I'm just another face in the crowd," says Fraim. "It's Selby who puts the sparkle in their eyes."

-Sandy Reckert-Reusing



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