Bringing joy: Nursing home residents adopt pooch to cuddle

Three months ago, a new part-time resident with four legs, a crooked smile and lots of love arrived at Seymour Place.

The new addition is Sophie, a 4-year-old English bulldog, who belongs to Tonia Wade, the activity director at the senior assisted living center.

“She loves the residents, and they love her,” Wade said.

A few months ago, Wade and her fiance, Brant Ross, who live in Brownstown, made the two-hour trip to Rushville to pick up Sophie.

“Sophie was a rescue dog, and the lady had taken good care of her but was no longer able to do so,” Wade said. “I had to take Sophie to get all of her shots. She’s got a lot of skin issues and has to eat grain-free food.”

Since her visits began at Seymour Place, Sophie has been to the veterinarian three times because she ingested part of a doughnut at work and her skin broke out. The way the protein is broken down in her food can cause Sophie to have such a reaction.

“She’s doing much better now with her diet,” Wade said. “When we got her, she was 34 pounds, and now, she weighs 50 pounds.”

Wade said she also has a Doberman Pinscher, and at first, he didn’t like Sophie, but now, they are the best of friends.

“She absolutely loves kids, and I have four children, three boys and a girl,” she said. “She’s just a people person, really.”

Wade said when she gets up in the mornings and asks Sophie if she’s going to work, the dog will walk over to the back door because she knows where they are going.

Gina James, who has been community relations manager at Seymour Place for 14 months, said Sophie seems to have given the residents an opportunity to remember when they had pets of their own.

While Seymour Place is pet friendly, offering the residents the ability to bring their pets from their previous living situation, some residents like to spoil Sophie as they would spoil their grandchildren, she said.

“Spoil them and send them home to their parents,” James said.

Seymour Place is part of the Enlivant communities of senior assisted living centers.

“Our corporate office wants all of the facility locations to have a house pet,” Wade said. “The resident council wanted one, but not one that would be here full time and require constant care.”

Jeff Jenkins, executive director of Seymour Place, said Sophie has become a part of the family.

Residents Charlie and Betty Ellercamp from North Vernon have been at the facility since the beginning of November.

“We like her a lot, and Charlie gets down on the floor with her sometimes,” Betty Ellercamp said. “A long time ago, we had pets of our own. Now, we just love on our daughter’s dogs.”

Charlie Ellercamp said Sophie is everybody’s friend, and they enjoy having her around.

Mary Sprunger of Seymour has lived at the center since the beginning of December and has a dog of her own there.

“I like dogs,” she said. “I have one down in my room. It’s a Boston terrier, and her name is Sassy, and that fits her personality very well.”

Besides Sprunger, a second resident also has a dog, two others have cats and another woman preparing to move in plans to bring her dog, too.

Evelyn Otte has been at Seymour Place for about four years. She was married to Raymond Otte for 65 years and lived in Seymour before his death in 2005.

“I grew up in Bartholomew County and used to work at the shirt factory in Columbus back then,” Otte said. “After I got married, I quit at the shirt factory and helped out on the farm, and I sometimes drove the tractor.”

Otte said they had cattle dogs that herded the cows when she lived on the farm but no indoor pets like Sophie.

Initially, when Wade brought Sophie to work, she was concerned the dog might interfere with the residents as they were walking, so she has been teaching Sophie not to jump.

“She’s doing really well now, and she walks beside them or behind them,” Wade said. “She knows her limits of where she can or can’t go and won’t go into the residents’ rooms without me.”

Sophie is friendly, gentle and easygoing. She allows Wade to paint her toenails and even puts up with being dressed in doll clothes by Wade’s daughter.

Even though Sophie is not a certified therapy dog, she still provides a form of therapy for the residents and those around her by lifting their spirits, Wade said.

“The residents really enjoy being around her,” she said. “If they are having a bad day, they see her and smile, no matter what.”

Wade brings Sophie along with her to work for the residents to enjoy while she takes care of the dog’s feedings, veterinarian visits and other needs.

“I take care of the dirty work so all the residents need to do is love on her,” Wade said. “It makes their day to know she’s here, and I know I’m doing my job if they’re smiling.”