The Osborn Retirement Community in Rye has always seemed like a warm and welcoming place. Knowing that they have visits from various therapy dogs? That makes it seem even more inviting a place to live.
Lynn Cohen, The Osborn's Director of Recreation and Volunteers, certainly agrees.
"About two years ago, we partnered up with the Good Dog Foundation to bring therapy dogs to visit our residents. It has been going extremely well. Some of our regular 'visitors' include Amstel, who is part Akita and part something else; Skipper, who's a big Golden Retriever and Fonzie, who is a Shepherd mix," she said. "They are so eagerly anticipated and warmly-welcomed, you'd think the dogs were rock stars. The visits are a high point in the week for a number of our residents."
Cohen went on to say that Fonzie, who was a "sad case" until his current owner rescued him, is as charismatic and beloved as his "Happy Days" namesake. And with good, if offbeat reason.
"Fonzie had a pretty rough life before he was rescued and was terribly neglected. He's missing some teeth, and as a result, his tongue hangs out of the side of his mouth. But he's an incredibly loving dog and everyone at The Osborn knows and adores him."
The magical effects these canine visitors produce is something to see, touching the hearts of some seniors who were thought to be unreachable, Cohen said.
"When a dog visits, it's pretty informal. They stay at the nurses station and you can come and hang out or not. Most people do. When our residents pet the dog, you can really start to see the person inside them. Their spirit, their youthful self. It's riveting to watch."
Especially when it involves a senior who seemed lost to everyone around them.
"We have a woman with us, in her 80s, who never spoke. If you worked at it, you might be able to coax a smile from her, but nothing more. Then, Fonzie came. This same woman changed completely. She became animated as she petted the dog. She even talked! Okay, it was gibberish, but no one ever heard her make a sound before. It was astonishing to see."
Richard Combes, an Osborn resident and decorated veteran of WWII, had dogs during his time as a soldier. He said the dogs are great company because they are so empathetic.
"Personally, a dog is great therapy. A dog feels your pain, it reads you. When I see the dog visit me, it makes me go back when I was young and remember my German Shephards."
Cohen also said The Osborn tried to achieve the same effects with puppies. But the enterprise just sort of lay there. Literally.
"We had Critter Comforts in Scarsdale bring in a puppy once or twice. But, as cute as they were, we forgot about the drawbacks. Puppies are not very active, did you know that?" she said. "Especially, if they have no other puppies with them. This one little dog, Ozzie, came and he just fell asleep on the floor. That's not too exciting to watch."
Cohen also said older dog visitors are better for two other reasons. They are leash-trained and a lot less likely to have 'accidents' on the floor.
Ms. Cohen said her liaison to Good Dog, Heather White, the foundation's Westchester Executive Trainer and program coordinator, has been "very receptive and helpful" when it comes to providing these doggy do-gooders. For her part, Ms. White has found the experience rewarding as well.
"I have been able to see so many wonderful interactions between our therapy dog teams and the patients they visit," she said. "The therapy dog teams who visit The Osborn in Rye are very dedicated and I am always blessed to hear about the wonderful residents and how our dogs bring so many smiles to both their faces and those of staff at The Osborn."
As pleasurable as it must be to welcome these woolly visitors all-year round, Ms. Cohen said the holidays, which can be rough for seniors, are brightened even more by these therapy dogs. Because then, they do dress-up.
"If you think Fonzie or Amstel are cute the way they are, you can't believe how much cuter they are at the holidays. We're all real excited that October isn't that far away. It means one thing, of course: Halloween!" she said.
"All I can say is if you love dogs, you can't believe how cute they look when they're all dressed up in a costume."