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Puppy Love

Animal Protective Association's foster program is a win win for puppies, kittens & the seniors who help care for them

A catahoula-mix puppy uses Darlene Mourray's finger as a chew toy. Mourray is a resident of Stone Crest at Clayton View in Richmond Heights. | photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)

July 12, 2017

When the time comes to move to a senior living facility, one of the hardest decisions could be leaving one's pet behind. Thanks to PetReach and the Animal Protective Association (APA) Adoption Center Fostering Program, seniors can now get their "pet fix" on a regular basis.

Sarah Javier, APA president and executive director, said the APA mission is to bring people and pets together, including those in senior living.

Documentation shows that pets have a therapeutic value for people in residential care facilities. Petting an animal helps arthritic fingers, lowers blood pressure and eases stress.

Since 1983, PetReach has sent APA staff, volunteers and their pets into senior care facilities, psychiatric units, convalescent centers and children's hospitals.

A catahoula-mix puppy finds a loving lap at Stonecrest at Clayton View. | photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
With the PetReach program, volunteers go to 25 assisted living facilities every month, bringing dogs and cats to the residents for a few hours a day.

In April, the APA launched its fostering program, which brings puppies and kittens to a facility where they stay for up to four weeks. They are then returned to the shelter, where they are spayed or neutered and put up for adoption.

"We thought since we have these amazing relationships with these facilities through PetReach, why don't we see if they want to expand that relationship and start fostering some of our puppies and kitties," Javier said. "Having a puppy or a kitten depending on you gives the senior resident a sense of purpose.

"As for the puppies and kittens, it provides amazing socialization that they need at a young age," she said.

Stonecrest at Clayton View, 8825 Eager Road, has been home to three catahoula puppies for the past two weeks, giving joy to the residents. Soon, they will be leaving.

Mary Bartley, a resident at Stonecrest at Clayton View, enjoys the company of a kitten. | photos by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
"While it's hard to let them go, the puppies are getting bigger and need a place to run and play, and everyone here is excited to see what kind of puppies we'll have next," said Erika Holmes, director of the Vibrant Life Program at Stonecrest at Clayton View.

"They're here all day and we can come down any time we want to," said resident Darlene Murray, holding a squirming puppy. "I don't know if they get anything out of it, but I do."

Resident Bill Long likes taking care of the kitties.

"I always see the cats, and give them water," he said. "If I open the cage, they run all over."

Resident Mary Bartley, one of the original founders of the West End Word, snuggles a puppy and her smile speaks volumes.

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Upstairs, three kitties scramble around a room, tolerating a brief hug from one resident before bouncing off her lap to join his brother and sister.

Holmes said having the residents interact with the puppies and kittens is a win-win situation.

"They help feed them and take them out in the morning so it breaks up the day, and it's calming and therapeutic," she said. "Who doesn't want to see a puppy run around and play?"

Being around the residents prepares the puppies for meeting people.

"We get them acclimated and socialized by being touched and handled and looking forward to that human interaction," Holmes said.

Laclede Groves Senior Living Community in Webster Groves also participates in the fostering program.

Stonecrest at Clayton View resident Don Clooney holds a catahoula-mix puppy. | photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
"It's so amazing," Kristina Wille, director of resident services at Laclede Groves, said. "I've gotten a couple of pictures of them holding the puppies and you should see the look on their faces; they are thrilled.

"I have one gentleman who usually doesn't say much," Wille said. "We put the little girl pup on his lap, and he played with her, and said she's such a good puppy.

"It brings words out, and they remember their childhood, being kids and having animals," she said. "A couple of ladies said they used to have dogs and now they can't, so this satisfies that nurturing component."

Border collie puppies Lacy and Radar have been living at Laclede Groves for almost three weeks and have been adopted by two staff members.

"They will bring them in so the residents can watch them grow," Wille said.

Several residents gathered in the sun room to pet the pups and watch them play.

Lacy, however, slept contentedly on resident Jim Johnson's lap while he stroked her head.

Resident Larry McNabb tried to hold Radar, who chewed on his thumb with needle-like puppy teeth before jumping off and crawling under a couch.

"I love to play with them as much as I can," said Sister Rose Marie Groppe.

"Meeting the needs of our puppies and kittens while bringing joy and purpose to the senior living residents – it is the best kind of care there is," Javier said.

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