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Therapy animals greet isolated seniors

March 27, 2020

The wagging tag of a happy dog and fidgeting nose of an adorable bunny outside Elmcroft Senior Living’s windows helped ease the stress and anxiety of the residents isolated inside.

Activity Director Chelsea Tennant was limited in finding ways to entertain and excite the ones most vulnerable to the dangers of COVID-19, she said.

“To be honest, morale had been pretty low,” Tennant said. “The residents deserve to have love and that is a big part of what I do for them. If that interaction is taken away, that makes everyone upset.”

On Tuesday morning, the director enlisted the help of the Faithful Paws program featuring four therapy dogs and a rabbit.

Faithful Paws is an animal assistance therapy program under the Bellaire United Methodist Church. The volunteer group and their pets are trained and licensed to comfort people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, or other facilities requesting visits.

The pets and their handlers went window-to-window to various residents with the intention of placing smiles on faces.

“This is always really fun and really rewarding to do,” volunteer Mary Grace Bayer said. “When they texted me to come out, any little thing we can do, we always do it.”

Bayer is the owner of Scholar, a whippet who specializes in emotional support and providing a happy visit for those in need.

In order to become licensed therapy animals, the dogs had to undergo intensive training and be approved by the American Kennel Council, becoming a “canine good citizen.”

Tina Fatig was visiting her mother, Thelma Gillespie, as Scholar and the other animals pressed their wet noses on her window to greet her.

“She loves animals.” Fatig said about her mother. “They were good company for her and made her smile.”

Pat Haltom, a resident, appreciated the momentary distraction, she said.

“I think this was wonderful,” Haltom said. “It takes my mind off of all the craziness going on.”

Volunteer Jeannie Coday greeted Haltom with Bella, a Shih Tzu, and Mr. Bojingles, the popular rabbit.

“Looking at these pets can calm your anxiety and relax you,” Coday said. “Mr. Bojingles goes with me everywhere and always makes people happy.”

Tennant glowed as she watched the joyful expressions on her residents’ faces.

“They needed this today,” she said. “Life has so many ups and downs and we are here to bring out the sunshine. We’ve heard from a lot of people they really appreciate this.”

The activities director looks forward to continuing events that the residents can still enjoy, but also distance them from harm, Tennant said.

“If there is a simple way to do something, I’ll do it in a moment,” Tennant said. “The extra motivation is that if we can bring happiness to them, it brings everyone peace.”

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