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Pets of all Shapes and Sizes Bring Joy to Our Elders

LONGMEADOW, Mass. – On any given day, if visiting one of the entities that make up the JGS Lifecare campus, you will see some very special residents and visitors.  They can be recognized by their four legs, their soft purrs, or their bright colored feathers.  Animals are welcome and encouraged at JGS Lifecare, a leading health care system serving seniors and their families, bringing unconditional love and joy to our residents, spreading laughter and cheer, and triggering fond memories of beloved companions.    

Bonnie Engelman is a volunteer with Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, an agency headquartered in Easthampton that trains both handlers and their dogs. Bonnie has been volunteering at JGS with her dog Mo (short for Mojito), a mini bernedoodle, for over one year.  She brings Mo on Tuesdays to Ruth’s House.  Bonnie loves volunteering, and so does Mo!  “The residents love touching Mo, just seeing her gives them some sort of a connection, they remember their own dog or other dogs in their lives, and it brings back such wonderful feelings for them,” reflected Bonnie.   “Mo helps me open up a conversation with the residents, where we talk about other things in their lives.  It’s the dog…she is so comforting and soft to touch, and she looks up at them with those big brown eyes and they really respond.  On my way out of the building on Tuesdays I stop by the ladies playing cards in the activities room.  Mo will go up to them and nudge them with her nose so they will pet her.  The ladies laugh.  Mo brings such joy to their lives!”  Bonnie has made up business cards for Mo.  She was so touched when one of the residents opened her wallet and took out Mo’s business card and told her, “I love your dog, I’m going to put this card under my pillow!”

Greg Gale, a member of the Life Enrichment staff at Ruth’s House Assisted Living Residence, commented on how pets have a delightful way of opening doors of communication that would otherwise be locked or difficult to open. “For many people a dog, cat or bird brings into mind positive memories and stories of life experiences. If someone is feeling sadness or loneliness the visit of a pet can turn these feelings around and transform them to feelings of gratitude and joy. When a caregiver is trying to reach the essence of a person in need, a pet visit can be extremely effective in cleansing sour attitudes with positive experiences. Here at Ruth’s House we are lucky to have a resident cockatiel “Tweety” who makes special appearances to activities or visits to a resident’s room when they are feeling ill. To meet Tweety, view our video at facebook.com/JGSLifecare.  We have dog therapy visits on Tuesdays by two special dogs “Bentley and “Mojito” that the residents also look forward to seeing.”

At the Leavitt Family Jewish Home, two of our residents are calico cats, Thelma and Louise.  Thelma is a bit shy and can often be seen sleeping at the top of her cat tower, when she’s not in a resident’s lap.  Louise likes to venture out and greet residents, staff and visitors in the lobby, or can be seen napping in the afternoon sun in the solarium.  She makes the nursing home feel like a real home. 

Nancy Friedman has been visiting residents across the JGS campus for over five years with her all American mixed-breed Cassie, a rescue out of Texas. She is especially moved by her visits with patients on hospice care.  “It’s as rewarding for the dog and owner as for anyone that we visit.  It can often be hard to say exactly what effect we are having, but if nothing else, it brings a smile to their face.”  Ellen Rosemond, Spectrum Home Health and Hospice Care social worker and volunteer coordinator shared, “The interaction with Cassie is a very calming interaction that brings joy to our patients who are struggling with a variety of physical and emotional difficulties.”

Anatole France, French Novelist and recipient of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature, was quoted as saying, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”   We are so thankful to our special four legged, furry, and feathery friends (and their owners), for helping us reawaken fond and loving memories, and helping us offer unconditional love and encouragement to the people we serve. 

About JGS Lifecare

JGS Lifecare is a leading health care system serving seniors and their families. JGS Lifecare services include nursing home care, home health and hospice care, assisted living, adult day health care, rehabilitation services, palliative care, music therapy and independent living. For more information, call JGS Lifecare at 413-567-6211 or visit jgslifecare.org.