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Four-Legged Friend

August 28, 2020

A Delaware Valley dog has joined his owner on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing joy and hope to vulnerable adults sheltering from exposure to the virus.

For the past several weeks, Boogs, a black and white Shih Tzu, has been visiting residents of Divine Providence Village (DPV), an intermediate care facility (ICF) for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Located in Springfield, DPV is part of the larger Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence (DGDP). Administered by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), the DGDP communities provide a continuum of support through community and campus-based living arrangements, life sharing through family living, in-home assistance, respite care and day programs.

Residents of DPV had been “receiving pet therapy for years” through the center’s Fatima Day Program, said DPV administrator Jean Calvarese-Donovan.

Rabbits as well as dogs would visit and cuddle with residents, offering reassurance as well as “a sensory experience,” she said.

However, COVID restrictions forced the day program to close, leaving DPV residents – already confined to the campus by the virus – anxious and lonely, she noted.

During her long shifts at DPV, health care coordinator Mimi Meeder saw that “residents were feeling isolated and … grieving the loss of (loved ones) and their routine,” said Calvarese-Donovan.

In response, Meeder snapped a leash on her dog Boogs and took him to meet the DPV residents.

The connection was immediate, said Calvarese-Donovan.

“It was such a positive experience, and she saw that his presence was helping to decrease anxiety and stress for the ladies,” she said.

Having aced his interview, Boogs was quickly registered as an emotional support animal to the delight of both residents and staff, who benefit equally from the canine’s gentle presence.

He’s also right-sized for his new role, said Calvarese-Donvan.

“He can easily sit on someone’s lap, even if they are in a wheelchair,” she said, adding that Boogs has brought “comfort and joy during some very sad times.”

Although fluent only in barking, Boogs has evoked some heartfelt words.

“One of our ladies who is more on the quiet side began to initiate speaking while petting Boogs,” said Calvarese-Donovan. “Then her conversation expanded to talking about her feelings.”

With his coffee-colored eyes and fetching underbite, Boogs draws residents and staff out of themselves, and helps build community, she added.

“One person was feeling down and didn’t want to leave her room,” she said. “Knowing that Boogs was in the building, she was motivated to come out of her room and join the others to see him.”

In fact, Boogs may be the most popular DPV staffer, even rivaling his well-regarded owner.

“Everyone looks forward to seeing Boogs,” said Calvarese-Donovan. “As soon as they see Mimi coming, they look down toward the floor to greet him. And they love Mimi too!”

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