Sitting with Lois Stelwagen in the dining room of the Sunset Home, she spoke of a new friend she had made. She described this new acquaintance as lovable, friendly and caring. “She looks into your eyes and really listens. She brings lots of smiles wherever she goes,” said Ms. Stelwagen. “When she comes to visit me, she’s always wagging her tail and putting her head in my lap.” Although this behavior may sound a little odd, it’s perfectly acceptable when it’s Lucy, Sunset Home Administrator Lance Allen’s 6-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever.
Handpicked from a litter of 10, Lucy frequented several local nursing homes during Mr. Allen’s college internships. This was when he realized she was the perfect temperament for this population. “Lucy is not your average pooch,” said Mr. Allen. “She’s so intelligent that sometimes it’s scary. People are drawn to her because of her likability, temperament and manners.”
Lucy was by Mr. Allen’s side in February 2012 when he took a position as licensed nursing facility administrator at King’s Manor Methodist Retirement System in Hereford, Texas. From there, Lucy came on board with Mr. Allen at Lutheran Sunset Ministries in August 2014. “When we offered Lance the job, he said Lucy was a package deal,” said CEO/President of Lutheran Sunset Ministries Rodney Reuter. “That’s a deal I’m incredibly glad we made. We’ve loved having her here.”
“Lucy lightens the mood for everyone in the facility,” said Mr. Allen with a smile. “Health Center staff are so used to working in an institutional setting and following rigid ‘workplace rules.’ We’re trying to break that mold and cut the tension for both staff and residents. We want to do things here that you don’t see anywhere else ‑‑ fun things that make staff and residents question whether they’re even in a Health Center. Happy staff makes happy residents.”
According to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR), “companion animals may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating the heart rate during stressful situations. Among elderly people, companion pets might also be an important source of social support that enhances well-being. In one study, elderly individuals that had a dog or cat were better able to perform certain physical activities deemed ‘activities of daily living,’ such as the ability to climb stairs; bend, kneel or stoop; take medication; prepare meals; and bathe and dress.” A surprising number of retirement facilities are adopting the concept of companion animals, realizing that pets provide physical and mental benefits, especially as people age.
Most of the residents love Lucy and look forward to seeing her on a daily basis. “Many residents had animals growing up. Why should that change in this season of life?” said Mr. Allen. “There is plenty of research out there to validate and support the beneficial claims that have been made by those facilities that make pets an element of daily successful living and aging.”
Nancy Pruitt, another Sunset Home resident, also enjoys Lucy’s company. “I’ll just be sitting here and she’ll come right to me. She’ll sit and look at me like she understands what I’m saying … it could be the treats I keep in my bag,” Ms. Pruitt said with a chuckle.
It only takes a jingle of the collar to know that Lucy is near. Residents’ eyes widen and they begin looking around to see who she’s going to visit next. A sense of calm fills the air and residents seem to lose tension in their shoulders, if only for a moment. It’s extremely clear that Lucy is doing amazing work at Lutheran Sunset Ministries.
“I just love that dog,” said Ms. Stelwagen. “She reminds me of my dog at home. Her love and trust are unconditional.”Article by Andrea Hikel, Lutheran Sunset Ministries’ marketing and community relations director. by