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NMSU Pre-Vet Club Brings Pet Therapy to Alzheimer's Patients

LAS CRUCES - Several New Mexico State University students recently brought furry friends and a little cheer to residents of The Arbors of Del Rey, a facility specializing in Alzheimer's disease care.

NMSU Pre-Vet Club member Danielle Dawkins, left, gives Emma Warnke, resident of The Arbors of Del Rey, a chance to pet a cat during a pet therapy session. (04/28/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

Nine members of the NMSU Pre-Vet Club chatted with patients and let them pet the three dogs and two cats for a few minutes.

While not all responded, others smiled, talked and stroked an animal.

"It's surprising how much comfort the animal is," resident Mary-Lee Jones remarked.

Once or twice a semester, members of the Pre-Vet Club visit a retirement center with some of their own pets or borrowed animals for "pet therapy."

Kristan Wales, club vice president, said participants had not visited facilities specifically for Alzheimer's care before this year.

Club president Linda Davis said the community service allows members to see the needs of the elderly. Retirement center residents need interaction with pets as much as anyone else, she added.

"We enjoy coming down to brighten their day, even if it's only for a minute," she said.

Club member Christina Timmons spoke of a veteran living in The Arbors of Del Rey who once talked a lot to students and wanted to keep the dog they brought to him. They were told he did not talk before.

Retirement center staff can also testify to the benefits of pet therapy for residents.

"You can tell they're happy," said Pedro Ayala, a medical technician at The Arbors of Del Rey. "It distracts their minds from whatever they're thinking."

Wales said veterinary schools like to see pet therapy on applications because it shows community service and animal experience.

The Pre-Vet Club promotes basic knowledge of veterinary medicine and offers information and opportunities for members' future careers. It is open to students of all majors.

Besides pet therapy, the club takes an annual trip to the veterinary school at Colorado State University, participates in campus events, hosts guest speakers and more. They plan to hold a "dog wash" on April 30 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Calista Animal Hospital, 162 Wyatt Drive, to raise funds.

This year, five students from the Department of Animal and Range Sciences were accepted to start veterinary school in the fall. Animal science majors Davis, who is from Cloudcroft; Kendra Miller of Peralta; Jason Crawford of Los Lunas; and Aaron Gruben of Alamogordo gained entrance to Colorado State. Jenice Jim, NMSU graduate attending Iowa State University, was accepted to Washington State University.