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Furry Friends with Benefits

These friendly animals give senior living residents the comfort they need.

June Floyd has a special relationship with the rabbit — appropriately named Thumper — that makes her home in the senior living location in Fort Collins, Colorado, where June lives. Thumper's favorite lunch? Salad bar, of course.

Content provided by the Good Samaritan Society.

Misty transforms a quiet apartment.

LaVonne Berndt, 84, a widow and assisted living resident, recently adopted a cat she named Misty. Her love of cats started when she was a child and would dress up her own two cats. While she has owned both dogs and cats throughout her life, LaVonne hasn’t had any pets for several years until adopting Misty. She says her life has improved after getting a cat.

“I can play with her and pet her. Her meowing is her way of talking to me. She keeps me company and when she’s playing, it keeps it from being so quiet in my apartment,” LaVonne says. Because LaVonne has limited mobility and uses a walker, her daughter, Denise Haight, purchased self-feeders for Misty’s food and water. Denise frequently visits her mom and cleans Misty’s litter box while she’s there.

Denise has seen a dramatic change in her mom since she got Misty. “She has something to nurture and something waiting for her when she gets back to her apartment. She loves the fact that Misty is very active, yet still wants to be on her lap to be petted. She sleeps next to mom, and likes to ride on her walker. She’s a great companion for her.”

Update: Since this interview, LaVonne has died and Misty has found a new home.

Pet ownership has many positive selling points.

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For seniors — either in a long-term care setting or their own homes — the benefits can be profound. Animals contribute to a therapeutic and homelike environment. At the New Dimensions memory care unit in Hays, Kansas, a cat named Jade was recently adopted from a local farm.

“Jade has had a calming affect on residents with Alzheimer’s,” says Kathy Moravek, senior living manager. “We’ve had a lot of good experiences with her. There’s 24-hour petting when Jade is around. She’s been a huge asset to us.”

Pets don’t have to be furry to be fun.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, residents and their family members frequently visit two tortoises, Diablo and Delilah, who make their home in the garden of their senior living location. Resident Millie Tjeltweed owned the tortoises for 35 years. When she moved in, she gave them to the senior living community.

Residents who normally aren’t verbal react when they see the tortoises and it brings them joy to spend time in the garden watching them. Community members also visit the campus to see the tortoises.

“They’ve caused a lot of interest,” says Millie.

Each year, the tortoises hibernate from October to March. Residents hold a parade when they come out of hibernation. The tortoises are carted around in a decorated wagon and pulled through the nursing home and into the garden where refreshments are served. Anyone is welcome to participate in the parade and they’re encouraged to play kazoo.

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“It’s very silly and loud and noisy,” Millie says. “I’m the drum major.”

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