Senior care center sees the power of pets

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on September 29, 2012 at 6:59 PM

MESQUITE -- One day often blends into the next for nursing home residents.

But at Christian Care Center in Mesquite, every day there is one small reason to smile -- they call her CC.

"I love dogs," said one resident, reaching out to stroke CC's soft fur. "That's all there is to it."

An increasing number of senior care centers that once wouldn't let anything with fur in the front door are now welcoming animals.

CC lives at the center, alongside residents.

"And all the studies are showing it reduces depression, prevents loneliness," said center director Mary Poole. "Even a dog for an hour can reduce their risks that they have for high blood pressure, depression. And it also gives them purpose."

Poole said she's seen medical bills drop and the happiness of residents rise because CC is around full time -- just like pets at home.

Because many of these residents can't handle a lively dog, the center also has Snow, a robotic baby fur seal. The center recieved a $6,000 grant for the mechanical pet, which is equipped with hundreds of sensors that respond to touch and sound.

"It looks so realistic," said activity director Irene Mata, "and the residents enjoy him."

Several years ago, Alzheimers robbed Gerry Burris of her ability to communicate. Snow prompts a rare hint of a smile.

"It really calmed her down -- she gets a little anxious sometimes," said Gerry's adult daughter, Nancy Sloan. "She seemed to really connect with it, almost like it was a real animal."

More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. Studies show Alzheimer's will cost Americans an estimated $200 billion this year.

In their own small ways, Snow and CC are making a big difference to the bottom line of life for the seniors who live with them.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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