But we on the outside can help alleviate that loss by bringing our own pups in to visit nursing-home residents.
Some facilities have fairly stringent requirements about the dogs they welcome for such visits, including the need for Canine Good Citizen certification. With good reason: A dog who jumps up on people can do some real damage to people with unsteady feet and fragile skin.
To see if yours might qualify for this formal certification, check out this AKC-recommended video demonstrating the required training. There's nothing spectacular about it -- all of these skills should be part of a basic obedience regimen at any good training school. (For those in Milwaukee or Honolulu, I highly recommend sound, solid and well-established Amiable Dog Training. It's owned and operated by Amy Ammen, my co-author and the brains behind the fabulous book Hip Ideas for Hyper Dogs.)
A housekeeping tip: If your dog is an emotional wetter, you might want to look into canine diapers. Our cocker spaniel sports a spiffy turquoise "nappy wrap" when he goes visiting; it makes people laugh and eliminates the fear and distraction of soiling.
Dogs aren't the only critters capable of bringing joy to the elderly. Cats can make good visitors, too, if they're lazy lap-sitters who don't really care who's doing the petting. And horses can be the most exciting of all: Some kind-hearted cowboys once brought a couple of beautiful Arabians to the nursing home where I hang out, giving many of the residents the thrill of their golden years.
Updated from a 4/28/14 post