CHARLESTON—Residents at the Carter-May retirement home smiled happily and applauded their star pupil during the weekly pet therapy program.
They were part of an interactive session that allows residents to help socialize and even teach new tricks to a therapy dog.
“A lot of them had animals and they miss that,” said Nancy Moss, activity director. “This lets them be part of that world again.” She added that it’s a great socialization hour, with a lot of good-natured teasing and laughter.
The star of the hour is Magnus, a 19-pound bundle of good vibrations, and his owner/handler, Caroline Hunt. She is a semi-retired college professor who uses her extra time for her other passion, which is therapy dogs.
Hunt is a member of Southeastern Therapy Animal Resources, which employs trained animals for therapeutic purposes. She said the charitable work was a natural for her since she has always had dogs and grew up in a family where civil service was expected.
“It was a great way to combine the two,” she said.
For almost 20 years now, she has tapped into the talents of her canine companions to provide comfort — or entertainment — to people in hospitals and nursing homes.
Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital and Carter-May are the two places she visits most. At Carter-May, she takes Magnus, a Shetland Sheepdog she describes as a “rock star”, who loves to do tricks and receive adulation.
For the hospital, she takes Ellie, another Shetland who is more calm and therefore better with sick patients.
“Different dogs serve different purposes,” she said.
Hunt has been making weekly visits to Carter-May for about eight years, where she enlists the residents to help teach Magnus tricks. Participants can flip through a book and choose something they want to see the Sheltie do, such as “carry my purse.”
She said it’s been a very successful program that energizes the residents and leads to a lot of laughter.
Marvin Veronee, a former U.S. Navy lieutenant living at Carter-May, makes rope toys that Hunt incorporates into the routine, teaching the Sheltie to distinguish between the rope and other items.
Most of the residents enjoy everything Magnus does, saying he simply makes them feel good.
“We just like him,” said Bella Love, who had dogs all her life. “It doesn’t make any difference what he does.”
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