Posted: January 3, 2023
For many people, having a pet is a part of daily life. Many people long for the companionship, loyalty and protection that a four-legged friend provides. In fact, research shows that the majority of pet owners in the United States, no matter the stage of life, consider their pets to be family members and share a strong attachment bond with them. For residents and team members of our pet-friendly senior living community, the presence of pets is not only a part of daily life, but it has formed a bond and a community connection that goes back several years.
Joni Karp, Director of Sales & Marketing at Cappella, has been involved in the senior community of Mesa County for many years. Upon joining Cappella in 2017, Joni began bringing her dog, Rez, to work with her every day and Rez quickly became part of this community.
As covered many times over the years in local news outlets, the impact that Rez had on the residents was immense. Though Rez was just a puppy when she became Cappella’s resident dog, the residents seemed to calm her in the same way that she brought them peace and comfort. She greeted residents, allowing them to pet and pat her, and joined in on elevator rides, walks, and relaxing around the community.
As noted in a 2019 article in the Daily Sentinel, Rez had a 9-to-5 job just like Joni, eventually finding her routine, coming and going as she pleased, enjoying the time spent with residents. Ultimately, community members and visitors of Cappella were comforted by her companionship, praising Rez for “brightening their days.”
As everyone who has owned a pet may have experienced, not all days are bright. Rez eventually passed on and it wasn’t long until Joni and her colleague, Barbara Schumacher, Move-In Coordinator, were hearing from community members who missed the presence of their beloved resident dog.
Joni and Barbara realized the significant impact and benefits that this opportunity brought to the community, and now, Cappella has two resident dogs: Suzy and Eilean. However, Suzy and Eilean both had different and difficult paths to their eventual home at Cappella.
Suzy, who was adopted in October by Barbara, is a 14-year-old Pekingese whose roots run deep in the Cappella community. Before her adoption, Suzy belonged to a resident during her stay. The resident and her husband were a charitable couple, making weekly trips to the local homeless shelter to donate leftover bakery items from the husband’s work. It was on one of these trips to the shelter that the husband encountered Suzy and after a few more trips, he took her home. After having lived at Cappella, it was a smooth transition when Barbara adopted her as she was used to being in the building. These days, she serves as one of our resident dogs, greeting and offering comfort to community members every day.
Joni adopted Eilean in July and after two years of bringing Rez to work with her, it wasn’t long until she was bringing Eilean as well. Eilean was fostered in numerous homes before her eventual adoption. She had also suffered a severe leg injury from a gunshot wound. Her most recent foster family stood by her side through her amputation. Eilean dealt with a lot of pain post-surgery, but began to recover and adjust to her new life as a tripod dog. Due to the extreme kindness and support of her foster family, Eilean was able to enjoy almost all of the activities she was capable of before and never lost her goofy, playful personality. The adoption application process following her surgery was long and selective, but ultimately, it was found that a life with Joni – and at Cappella – would be the perfect fit for a dog who had so much love to share.
Barbara and Joni agree that the pair make a perfect fit for the community as Eilean is the bigger, more stubborn personality while Suzy is small, yet sassy. Both also agree that having resident dogs as part of the Cappella community is a decision well-made and one that they don’t plan to look back on.
The inclusion of Suzy and Eilean in everyday community life goes hand-in-hand with Cappella’s position on a pet-friendly way of life. Suzy and Eilean are joined by five other pets in Cappella of Grand Junction – one dog and four cats.
As both residents and team members would attest to, promoting a pet-friendly senior living environment has a variety of both mental and physical benefits.
Oftentimes, older adults experience the loss of close friends or loved ones in their later years. The transition to an assisted living community alone may induce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Pets can elevate an owner’s mood and bring happiness and companionship, buffering the effect of loneliness on older adults.
For many older adults, there was some point in their life when they had a pet, especially in a more rural community like Grand Junction. Whether residents have pets or not, pet ownership can be a topic that bonds community members together by sharing old stories of pets.
Joni and Barbara shared that having resident dogs has been a best-of-both-worlds situation for many residents who like to be in the presence of pets and interact with them without having to take on full responsibility. It also creates a shared experience through which residents can connect.
Focusing on the health needs and daily care of a pet can be a meaningful task, giving owners a structured routine to their life. Further, Joni shared that having dogs in the community has brought a calmness to the residents, giving them a sense of home.
Studies show that companion animals can help to lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating heart rate during times of stress. Further, the CDC states that pets “increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities and contribute to better cognitive functions in aging adults.” Having a pet-friendly senior living community promotes healthier habits and lifestyles for residents.
Pets and humans have more in common than we may realize and the bond between the two can be significant. In the cases of Suzy and Eilean, they’ve experienced both hardship and joy, eventually finding their home at Cappella. Similarly, in whatever path led community members to Cappella, bonding over shared pets is just one more way that residents feel at home too.