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Every Friday, you’ll find a 25-pound labradoodle named Ellie making her way through assisted living and memory care at Waltonwood Cary Parkway (a premier senior living community). She doesn’t belong to any residents, but rather a local woman who wants to brighten the days of seniors through pet therapy. Michele Hardy raised Ellie since she was a puppy and is training her to be a therapy dog. Pet therapy has numerous mental and emotional benefits for seniors, including socialization, mental stimulation, higher comfort levels and a boost in self-esteem. The residents love having Ellie visit, that’s why Hardy says it’s important to bring her each week.

“We plan our visits around an activity so we can interact with as many residents as possible. In memory care that is in the common area where residents gather after lunch and in assisted living, it is usually around bingo,” said Hardy. “We even make house calls to the residents who weren’t able to attend the activities. Ellie is particularly fond of one resident we visit who lost her beloved cat shortly before we started our visits. Team members at Waltonwood thought Ellie might help fill the void. Even though Ellie isn’t a cat, she and the resident have formed a special bond, and they both enjoy their weekly visit.”

The journey to become a therapy dog started before Hardy got Ellie. She always liked helping others, and knew pet therapy would benefit seniors. Hardy also wanted to have a closer bond with Ellie. She worked with her alone for quite a while, but then started taking Ellie to classes with a local pet business to polish some of the required skills Ellie needed. Now, she’s been making an impact on seniors at Waltonwood Cary Parkway for just over a year.

“Saturday visits to Waltonwood were part of the training,” said Hardy. “Ellie was initially shy during her visits, but over time she has become very comfortable and much more interactive with the residents. I’ve witnessed the benefits of pet therapy both for Ellie and the residents firsthand, and it is truly something special.”

“Residents of Waltonwood Cary Parkway enjoy the benefits of having Ellie come to the community for pet therapy,” said Richard Mabe, executive director. “They are happier and socialize more when Ellie is around, and spirits remain high long after Ellie leaves. She is the sweetest dog and has really made an impact on residents in memory care and assisted living. We appreciate Michele bringing Ellie to the community each week.”  

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