Before each visit,
Amy bathes Coco, her 11-year-old shorkie (a yorkie and shitzu mix), and puts a little red bandana around her neck. Coco excitedly spins in a circle a few times, and then she’s ready to go. “She knows what we’re doing,” Amy said, adding that Coco makes happy whimpering sounds during the car ride to their important appointment.
Coco is part of Anderson Humane’s Healing Paws, pets that have been certified as therapy animals. We help arrange their visits to senior centers, schools, and other places that need the healing presence of animals. Coco’s specialty is a local memory care facility.
There, she’ll go from room to room, sitting in the residents’ laps. Some are ecstatic to see her, eager to wrap their arms around her furry, 11-pound frame. Others will cry quietly, fondly remembering the pets of their youth or those they had to leave behind to come to this facility.
Amy will approach some who are in a sleepy stupor. When she gently rouses them to let them know Coco is there, “Their eyes light up,” Amy said. “’She’s here just for me?’ they’ll ask. ‘Yes, just for you,’ I’ll tell them.” Then Coco crawls into their lap and joy permeates the room.
Amy found the Healing Paws program when looking for volunteer opportunities for her son several years ago. She’d always been intrigued by pet therapy and knew Coco had the temperament for it. “She’s just a people person, calm and friendly,” she said.
Amy soon took Coco in for an evaluation. “She passed, and off we went!” Because Coco is not fond of young children coming at her quickly, the memory care facility has proven a great fit. Amy knows Coco enjoys it too. “She doesn’t like wearing cute dog clothing, but she lets me put the Healing Paws bandana on her. She knows what it’s for.”
In addition to the visits to the memory care facility, Coco also makes appearances at Anderson Humane events and evaluations of other potential Healing Paws dogs. Amy and Coco recently were part of a corporate event. “The employees loved it!” Amy said of the workers who got to spend their lunch hour playing with several Healing Paws dogs. Still, Amy and Coco’s favorite is the memory care unit.
“It’s so rewarding, a great way to give back to the community,” Amy said of those visits. “I love getting to know the elderly there, and we get to bring them happiness. That makes us feel so good.”