Best Friend

Resident Stella Napper snuggles little Lucy at Highlands Health and Rehab every day.

In April 2014, someone very special came to live at Highlands Health and Rehab (HHR), and she has been stealing hearts ever since.

Meet Lucy, a five-month-old Yorkie/Chihuahua mix puppy who is helping HHR change the culture of aging by simply giving everyone unconditional love and companionship.

“In early 2012,” said Mary Anne Parsons, activities director at HHR, “during the monthly homeowner’s meeting, the residents expressed their desire for a four-legged addition to our Highlands family.

“They wanted a dog,” she continued. “Not just a dog to visit, but one that would live here at Highlands and share its life with us.”

The residents did not care what breed the dog was, but they did have a few specific qualities in mind.

“They wanted a dog that had pretty fur, but did not shed,” Parsons said. “And they wanted it to be just the right size – not too big, but not too small. Most of all, though, they wanted one that loved people of all ages.”

Over the next couple of years, HHR ‘trialed’ several dogs, but none of them seemed to be the one.

“They were either too big or too small,” Parsons said. “They either had too much hair or not enough. Some were lazy and some were hyper.

“Some were sweet and liked children, but not residents,” she said. “Some were just the opposite. No dog was just right.”

All of that changed when little Lucy arrived.

“One of our nurses, Melissa Lewis, told me she had a Yorkie named ‘Bella’ who was having puppies,” Parsons said. “The daddy was a Chihuahua, so she said the puppies should be very small. She asked if we would like one for the home.

“After discussing it with our administrator and the residents at the next homeowner’s meeting,” Parsons said, “we decided to get a female puppy from Bella’s litter and try it.

“We knew it was going to take a lot of work to train a little puppy. Involvement would be required from both the staff and the residents. They knew it would was a big job, but felt like we were all up to the task.

“In late April,” she continued, “our precious girl arrived. We held a contest among the residents and staff to name our new baby, and over 40 names were submitted. We chose the name, ‘Lucy.’

According to Parsons, it has not been easy having a live-in pet at the care center, but the benefits far out weigh any challenges they have faced.

“We love Lucy,” Parsons said. “She loves everybody and she has just fit in here from day one. She sleeps in the resident’s laps, visits their rooms and even sleeps at night with resident, Dot Hicks.

“Dot is just Lucy’s momma,” she joked. “And Lucy is her baby.”

While Lucy is a pet, she also serves a greater purpose at HHR.

“There is a national movement for the transformation of older adult services called ‘Culture Change,’” Parsons said. “It is based on person-directed values and practices where the voices of residents and those working with them are considered and respected.

“Core person-directed values are choice, dignity, respect, self-determination and purposeful living,” she continued. “Culture Change transformation supports the creation of both long and short-term living environments, as well as community-based settings where both older adults and their caregivers are able to express choice and practice self-determination in meaning ways at every level of daily life.”

It may require changes in organization practices, physical environments, relationships at all levels and workforce modes – leading to better outcomes for consumers and direct care workers without inflicting detrimental costs on providers.

“One of our changes here at HHR is Lucy,” Parsons said. “She came along and helped begin the journey to change the culture of aging at HHR.”

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