Therapy dogs spread holiday cheer throughout Austin area

Austin Dog Alliance therapy dog teams visited nine assisted living and nursing homes on Christmas Eve. (KXAN/Kyle Kovilaritch)
Austin Dog Alliance therapy dog teams visited nine assisted living and nursing homes on Christmas Eve. (KXAN/Kyle Kovilaritch)

AUSTIN, (KXAN) — Austin Dog Alliance planned a special holiday treat for nine Austin-area assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the late morning on Christmas Eve.

The organization brought therapy dogs to spread holiday cheer by giving gifts, smiles and wagging their tales to bring joy to residents of the nine different locations. The visits took place between 9 a.m. and noon across Austin.

A few of the facilities that welcomed the furry visitors include Clairmont Retirement Community, The Pointe at Cedar Park, Horizon Bay Round Rock and Brookdale at Lakeway. Volunteers also delivered gifts to residents sponsored by Frost Bank.

“We don’t lack for the presence of animals due to the active role of Austin Dog Alliance,” said Jessica Garza, activity director for The Pointe at Cedar Park. “Many of our residents miss their pets, so when we see these dogs it warms their heart.”

Studies show that spending time with therapy dogs can make a significant impact in the patient’s comfort, progress and recovery. It is shown that petting a dog can lower blood pressure, release pain-suppressing endorphins and improve survival rates for heart attack victims.

While this weekend is a special time of year, Austin Dog Alliance pet therapy teams make year round visits to hospitals, nursing homes and hospice locations. In 2016, 160 Austin Dog Alliance pet therapy dog handlers and their furry partners visited more than 200 partner sites in the Austin area, providing more than 33,000 hours of volunteer service. In total, the organization has served over 50,000 people in Central Texas.