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Posted on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 : 5:10 a.m.

Ann Arbor resident doesn't allow traditional concepts of dog ownership to limit her

By Lorrie Shaw

Having a pet around provides so many benefits. From the physical - lower blood pressure, higher tolerance for pain, lower stress levels - to the mental boost that they give us. I know on my daily adventures with dogs, when most people see us coming, they genuinely smile and some even want to stop, talk and pet my charge. I have to admit, I love seeing people's faces brighten up when they approach.The dogs love it, too.

For some, companion animals give people a sense of purpose. Caring for another living thing is a profound experience and that, in itself I think, provides a great benefit for humans.


Banjo with his owner, Marie

Lorrie Shaw / Contributor

Many people follow a cycle of sorts when it comes to inviting a pet to share their life. For some, it's when they finally get out on their own and into their first home. Frequently, couples feel pulled to welcome a pet. Sometimes, it's a case of a pet simply arriving as one of life's happy, totally unexpected surprises, and life changes forever for both human and animal.

In most cases though a certain amount of thought goes into even the mere idea of having a pet - and usually, great consideration is taken and a lot of questions are posed: What is our life like? Where do we live - where will we live? What kind of pet? What breed? What will life be like in five, 10 years for us... for the pet? For the most part, there is a limit that we tend to put on what we think is manageable in terms of having a pet.

Marie is a typical dog owner. Banjo's needs comprise her last thoughts as she goes to bed. The Shih Tzu, who is 17, is the first thing that she thinks of as her feet hit the floor each morning - she needs to rise early to let Banjo outside to do his business, then feed him and then tend to other aspects of her life. The duo go about their day, just as any other pet and their owner do.

Sounds pretty typical, right?

What you might find unique, is that Marie and Banjo reside in an senior living facility. Before Banjo came along, though, Marie was already an experienced dog owner. Montel was Marie's animal companion for many years, even aftter she moved into her unit at University Living in Ann Arbor from her home a few years ago. Montel accompanied his capable owner for a time before he passed, and Marie proceeded with life alone.

University Living  employs unique concepts and innovative program opportunities in their independent and assisted living areas and has plenty of staff and residents around each day. Despite all of that, Marie did seem to withdraw after Montel's passing, and the change did not go unnoticed by the staff. It was clear that having a dog in her life to care for was beneficial.

In fact, Executive Director, Barbara Excel noted that after a short while, she began putting a bug in Marie's ear about the possibility of her getting another dog. Excel made clear that this would be a team effort: the other staff members were on board to help with the dogs' care, pitching in if Marie needed to be hospitalized or was too ill to care for the pooch. Additionally, permanant care was set in place by one of the staff members should Marie be incapable of doing so herself. Marie resisted for a time but eventually came to Excel and voiced that she was ready.

After an extensive search online with rescues, shelters and the like (with Marie's total involvement), a senior dog, Banjo, was located that seemed to be a great fit for life with Marie. After going through the interview process with the folks at Quality Grooming, LLC in Ann Arbor and applying to adopt - and detailing a permanant care plan - everything fell in to place.

The two settled into life easily, and as you would expect, having a companion animal in her life really allowed Marie's natural spark to re-emerge. The staff was as thrilled as could be, and for everyone - including other residents and visitors - it's been a great arrangement. People genuinely have an interest in engaging with Marie to ask questions and to pet Banjo, too.

At one point, Marie - who is 90 - was hospitalized for hip surgery. As she indicates, "I did everything that I was told to so that I could get through rehab, recuperate and be discharged - I had to get home to take care of Banjo!" And she did so in record time. During Marie's convalescence, the agreed upon staff member took over care of the dog.


Sky, with a resident at University Living.

Photo courtesy of Kate Thomas

Although this isn't a very common arrangement, it's obviously a beneficial one for everyone involved in this case. University Living recognizes the benefits of companion animals and even has another dog, Sky, owned by Kate Thomas of Ann Arbor - who comes in and engages residents with one-on-one visitation. The immediate benefits of the residents interacting with Sky, a King Cavalier Charles Spaniel, were quite evident during the time that I spent at the facility. University Living incorporates a fitness program, an intergenerational program, educational lectures, day trips and more. There is also a memory care unit and respite care.

I asked Marie if she would do it all over again - that is, to adopt a senior dog. She replied smartly, "Of course! He understands me, and I him. You know, we have a lot in common, with our age. He walks patiently next to me as I make my way down the hall with my walker, for example."

I think that's something that we could all use: understanding, care, interaction and patience. In whatever capacity a pet can be in a person's life, or for whatever span of time, there is the possibility of unlimited benefits.

Lorrie Shaw is a regular pets contributor for and wrote the popular blog post, "The Bucket List for Pets" She is also owner of Professional Pet Sitting, providing pet sitting services and dog walking. She welcomes your contact by e-mail.


Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:18 p.m.

I agree, LA -- there is a lot of group involvement in this case and it really seems to have created a solid connection between the residents and staff, too. It was a great atmosphere and am so glad that I was able to spend some time there.


Thu, Nov 4, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

Great article! I hope more senior facilities adopt a 'group' pet!! Good for all involved!