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New companion dog helps those at Strafford County's nursing home

Union Leader Correspondent

June 19. 2016 9:12PM
Riverside Rest Home resident Betty Demers pets Addie, the new companion dog working at Strafford County's nursing home, which has 215 beds. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DOVER —A new companion dog at Riverside Rest Home in Dover is helping elderly residents with dementia.

Addie is a 2-year-old golden and Labrador retriever mix who came to the county’s nursing home five weeks ago, and has been a hit ever since. She knows 40 commands, picks up dropped items, plays ball and is learning to knock over plastic bowling pins so she can “bowl” with residents.

Social worker Kristi Hughes, who cares for Addie at home and the facility, says the dog provides more for those living at Riverside than she ever expected.

“With the dementia residents it’s really nice, because they are actually remembering her,” Hughes said. “They see me, and if I don’t have her, they’re like, ‘Where’s my dog?’”

Hughes said Addie has even gotten some of her dementia patients who have a hard time holding conversations with people to talk again.

“They’ll talk to her in complete sentences,” Hughes said.

Hughes applied for the dog through Canine Companions for Independence, headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., over a year ago. She learned about the nonprofit organization because her sister uses a wheelchair and has one of their dogs to help when she is home alone.

Graduate program manager Laura Ann Dubecky said that, on average, 115 dogs are trained for facilities and individuals in the Northeast region each year. At 8 weeks old, they are sent to volunteer “puppy raisers,” who have them until they are 18 months old. They learn commands that are useful to people with disabilities, and then enter intensive training before being placed.

Dogs from Canine Companions work as hearing dogs, in the criminal justice system providing comfort to children who are victims of sexual abuse or violent crimes, and with disabled veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, all providing a wide range of services and companionship.

John Bentzinger, who works in public relations for the organization, said puppy raisers like the Purton family in Virginia, who trained Addie, are the backbone of Canine Companions. He said it isn’t easy to raise a dog to send it off to live with someone else, but it is all worthwhile.

“A longtime puppy raiser explained it to me like this: It’s like raising children. When they get old enough, they go off to college. When they’re done with college, you don’t want them to move back home, do you? You want them to go out, find a job, be happy and make a difference. That’s exactly what these dogs are doing,” Bentzinger said.

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