How a goldendoodle brings joy to Shrewsbury nursing home residents during the pandemic
By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – When COVID-19 took its grip on Massachusetts, nursing homes across the state closed their doors to visitors to keep their residents safe.
Shrewsbury Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was no exception. Their doors officially closed the second week of March 2020, and residents found themselves cut off from the “in-person” time with family and friends which meant so much to them.
Smiles during dark days
During the dark days of the coronavirus outbreak, there has been, however, one bright spot for everyone at the nursing home: Gracie, the goldendoodle, who has stolen the hearts of staff and residents alike.
Gracie belongs to Shrewsbury Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Administrator, Susan Gauthier, and has been “coming to work” with Gauthier since she was 12 weeks old, only 10 days after the facility had closed its doors to visitors due to the pandemic.
“I made the decision to get Gracie prior to COVID even happening,” Gauthier pointed out. “It turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.”
When Gracie was introduced to the residents for the first time, it was, said Gauthier, “Love at first sight.”
“The smiles she put on the residents’ faces brought tears to my eyes,” she recalled.
Her presence brings a smile to staff as well, whether it is during “Morning Meeting,” as she shares her toys with department heads and rolls over for belly rubs, or after the meeting, when she greets staff on their morning break, hoping to sneak a snack.
In the afternoon, Gracie makes room-to-room visits with the residents of each nursing unit.
Her daily visits are the highlight of the day for many, her arrival on nursing units met with a buzz of anticipation from both residents and staff: “Gracie is here!”
Although Gauthier noted that “Gracie loves everyone and everything,” the goldendoodle does have a special bond with several residents. In their rooms, she feels free to jump into their beds or onto their laps and snuggle.
Her pals John Goreschak and Marilyn Wedge are the recipients of many such snuggles. When the elevator doors open to John’s floor, Gracie will head directly to his room and hop onto his bed. Marilyn, who refers to Gracie as “My Buddy,” also allows the young dog to climb into her bed for cuddles and kisses.
Edith DeBaggis is another special friend. She has known Gracie since her puppy days and warned Gauthier that the goldendoodle would grow into a big dog. Now, when Gracie comes to visit, Edith laughs and tells Gauthier, “I told you so.”
Gracie seems to have an instinctive sense when extra gentleness is required, as with friend and resident Dorothy Senecal, an animal lover who is legally blind. Dorothy says that her visits with Gracie “make her day.”
Most recently, even staff members have been comforted by Gracie, as she “offered a paw” of support during their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Gauthier is currently exploring options for Gracie to train as a Therapy Dog. She already meets the criteria. While her title would change, her role at Shrewsbury Nursing and Rehabilitation Center would not. But the additional training, once completed, would enable her to also visit other nursing homes and hospitals.
“During the COVID outbreak and pandemic, the thing that was affected the most for our residents was their visitation with family members,” said Gauthier. “[Gracie] provided… support for them in some lonely days… I was amazed [at] the joy she brought…she taught all of us what unconditional love is during this difficult time.”
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