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2021 ARGENTUM BEST OF THE BEST AWARDS


BEST OF THE BEST COVID-19 Testing Dogs Pilot Program Benton House / Principal Senior Living Group


A WARM AND WELCOME WAY TO DETECT COVID CASES


For many of us, the repeated COVID-19 testing was a toler- able annoyance. But a non-invasive way to test would hold great benefits for those who have difficulty with the tests— including some people in memory care.


So when Benton House Senior Living CEO Mike Allard read a news article about COVID-detecting dogs being used at international airports, he had an idea: Could these trained animal helpers be used to sniff out cases of COVID in senior living?


“I was impressed with how quickly the dogs learned


to detect the virus, some in just a few days,” he says, “and how the accuracy rivaled current nasal pharyngeal testing percentages.”


He knew just the dogs for the challenge, too. He had donated to Canine Assistants (canineassistants.org), a service dog training and placement nonprofit based in Milton, Ga. Innovative minds think alike, apparently, because Canine Assistants’ Jennifer Arnold had the same question—and had even begun some initial trials.


“For years we have seen the benefit of dogs’ uncanny ability to alert their people to pending seizures or changes in blood sugar,” Arnold says. Canine Assistants is hoping to expand the program to include “other infectious agents that may pose health risks, such as influenza and MRSA. It takes a forward-thinking organization like Benton House to make this possible, and we’re proud to have them as a partner.”


The program received much media coverage, bringing smiles and showing the positives of senior living during the difficult year.


This dog helps in research—but is also a popular member of the community.


Allard is careful to make clear that dog diagnosis was done in addition to conventional testing protocols. “The extra layer of protection is just one more way we can serve our residents and team. Best of all, the dogs will live at the communities and just be part of the family.”


As COVID-19 testing becomes less critical with the high vaccination rates in senior living, the dogs have been moved into helping in a way that can be just as important. As therapy dogs, they can help improve socialization and engagement and reduce loneliness.


20 SENIOR LIVING EXECUTIVE SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021


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