By JOE LoTEMPLIO
ALBANY — PLATTSBURGH — Over the past six months, residents of Pine Harbour Assisted Living have experienced one of the most joyful upgrades they could imagine.
”She is the most friendly dog I have ever seen,” resident Harlan Moulton said. “She loves everybody.
”She is wonderful.”
The dog Moulton was talking about is Roxy, a 2-year-old shepherd mix that Pine Harbour adopted last summer. In her short time at the facility, Roxy has become a star in the eyes of residents, staff and visitors.
”She is definitely the queen around here,” said Meghan Southwick, director of The Valley, the secure memory-care unit of Pine Harbour.
Southwick, activities director Josh Brown and executive director Raeanne McLaughlin came up with the idea of getting a therapy dog last year after an experiment with some baby ducks.
They thought a friendly dog might lift the spirits of the 60 residents at the facility and make their surroundings feel more like home.
Southwick and Brown went to the Elmore SPCA, and Roxy jumped out to them as the perfect candidate. Abandoned by the side of the road when she was a puppy, a Good Samaritan brought her to the shelter.
She was rescued by a woman who took good care of her, but she got a job on the other side of the country six months later, so Roxy had to go back to Elmore. She wasn’t there for long before the Pine Harbour family found her.
”I was a little concerned at first about how she might transition from Elmore to a big facility with lots of people,” Southwick said.
”But she was fine. Not nervous, not overly excited or aggressive, and very passive.”
Southwick spent the first night at Pine Harbour with Roxy to make sure she was fine, and there were no problems.
The residents immediately took to their new furry friend.
”She goes up to everybody, even strangers, and wants to be petted,” said Moulton, who is 88.
”I’ve never seen a dog that friendly.”
Herb Myers, 82, likes to play fetch with Roxy in the hallways.
”She loves to play with anybody, especially if there is food involved,” Myers said.
Moulton said Roxy is very precise.
”When she wants to play, she will play until she’s had enough, and that’s it, she stops.”
Southwick and Brown became Roxy’s surrogate “mom and dad” and began training the brown beauty. They enrolled her in dog-therapy classes and arranged to take her to doggy day care twice a week to socialize and interact with other dogs.
They got her a few dog beds, which they strategically placed around the facility, and a whole bunch of toys.
”She just loves to play, and when I first get here everyday it’s clear that she wants at least 10 minutes of play time,” Brown said.
The hope was that Roxy would help the residents with more than their daily doings. Southwick said therapy dogs have been known to decrease the need for medications, lower blood pressure and add years to the lives of some elderly residents of assisted-living facilities.
So far it has worked, as some residents who previously did not socialize much have noticeably changed their outlook.
”We had some residents who hardly ever came out of their rooms, but now they come out and look forward to seeing Roxy,” Southwick said.
”We knew she was going to be great, but I never expected the impact she has had.”
Brown said that when he loads Roxy up into the van for a ride to doggy day care, the residents long for her.
”They miss her when she is gone and can’t wait for her to get back,” he said.
At therapy-dog class, Roxy learns all of the basic dog disciplines and some special commands. She knows not to jump on residents, and if someone drops a pill, to leave it alone.
She also knows to keep the noise down.
”She only barks maybe once in awhile if another dog comes in,” Brown said.
To do her business, Roxy will go to the back door and wait for a staff member to let her out. A large portion of Pine Harbour’s backyard is fitted with an electronic fence to keep Roxy home, but the pup shows no signs of wanting to wander off.
”She’s got it made here,” Southwick laughed.
Roxy has also learned to get along with the facility’s two cats, Pepe and Pierre — at least, sort of.
”She likes them, but we’re not sure they like her so much,” Southwick said.
Visitors to Pine Harbour have come to love Roxy, too.
Frequent visitors have taken to bringing her treats, and Roxy’s keen dog sense triggers her to make a run for the door when she recognizes the generous faces.
Southwick said that although having Roxy certified as a therapy dog is not required, the staff is still going through the process, which should be complete later this year.
It seems only fitting to have her certified since she has pretty much become a member of the staff.
‘MORE LIKE HOME’
”She is the best part of the marketing process we have,” Pine Harbour marketing director Maria Dias said.
On more than one occasion, a potential resident has come to Pine Harbour for a reluctant visit with the idea that they are not going to like it there. But Roxy changes the playing field.
”We had a woman who was not happy, but when she saw Roxy, she just melted and has been fine ever since,” Dias said.
Southwick said having a pet can be key for some residents.
”A lot of them are giving up their homes, their licenses and their pets, so having a pet here for them makes it more like their home,” she said.
Brown, who has always had a dog in his life, said Roxy has been just a pleasure and could not have worked out any better.
”For a lot of people, this is the last home of their lives, and she just makes it so much nicer.”
Email Joe LoTemplio: firstname.lastname@example.org