July-September 2016 Seasons of Life Feature

Melody Lends a Paw

When Christine walks in the door of Shepherd Hosue, St. Ann Center’s Alzheimer’s and dementia care unit, she’s welcomed with a cold nose and wagging tail. “She’s just like my Mack,” Christine says softly, her eyes misting over as she strokes the silky coat of her greeter, Melody.

Christine’s husband and caretaker, Richard, explains that Mack, a collie, was his wife’s constant companion. “Having a dog at St. Ann Center is a real asset,” he says of the calming effect Melody has on Christine.

Just 1-1/2 years old, Melody is a 73-pound bundle of furry energy. She’s also the youngest in a long line of canines that have volunteered as comfort dogs in Shepherd House. Sherry Husa, Melody’s owner, drops off her sociable golden retriever at the Stein Campus on her way to work as president and CEO of Managed Health Services. “I started bringing Melody here when she was 8 months old so she could get used to having wheelchairs and walkers around her,” says Sherry, vice-chair of St. Ann Center’s board of directors. “She senses who needs her and runs right to them—putting her head in their lap or licking their hand until she gets their attention.”

After Melody has made her rounds at Shepherd House, she makes a beeline for the Center’s beauty salon next door. “She knows right where I keep her treats,” says beautician Carolyn Steinke, a lifelong dog lover. Each biscuit is well-earned, she confirms, “Melody puts a smile on all my customers’ faces.”

“It’s so satisfying when caregivers tell me what a joyful difference Melody makes in their family members’ lives, just by being a dog.”

– Sherry Husa

One client Carolyn vividly remembers was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. “Her family wanted me to trim her hair, but she was too agitated and confused to sit in a salon chair. So they took her back to Shepherd House,” Carolyn says. Once she was settled there, Melody immediately sat down at her feet, waiting expectantly. The woman leaned forward and hugged her, perfectly content. “I hurried over and was able to cut her hair while she was holding the dog,” Carolyn recalls. “It was like magic.”

Actually, this “magic” is supported by scientific research. According to Mayo Clinic, animals can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people of all ages.  And when animals join in activities, they provide their human friends with comfort and enjoyment.


Read more of the stories from our joyful intergenerational community in the July-September Issue of our Seasons of Life Newsletter.

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