By Lisa Kava
Maria Alomar, a resident of the New Jewish Home (TNJH,) a comprehensive care facility for older adults at 120 West 106th Street, says “Dog Nights” are the best part of her week. On those monthly Wednesday nights, pet therapy teams — dogs and their owners — from The Good Dog Foundation (TGDF) visit in TNJH’s auditorium. Residents get to spend time with the dogs, while chatting with the owners in a group setting.
“Growing up, I had a Yorkshire terrier, a labrador retriever, a husky, and a German shepherd,” Alomar told West Side Rag. “When these dogs come to visit it reminds me a lot of my childhood. The moment when they all come into the auditorium is the highlight of my week.”
Resident Lorrie James shares these sentiments. “I love pets, so having The Good Dog Foundation bring dogs to us is really special to me,” James said. “The visits make me happy and are something I look forward to all week. The dogs reminds me of the two yorkies I had before I lived here.”
TGDF is a nonprofit organization that trains and certifies pet therapy teams, and arranges visits for them to those in need. TGDF therapy teams work in a variety of Upper West Side settings, including the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center, Atria 86, an assisted living residence, and TNJH.
As Alomar and James both attest, the dogs play an important role in the lives of seniors recovering from illness, injury, and hospitalization at TNJH. They describe Dog Night as a joyful evening which builds community among residents around the shared interest of dogs. “It brings all of us closer together and helps us create stronger relationships with one another,” Alomar said.
In addition to Dog Nights, therapy teams from TGDF regularly visit residents individually in their rooms. During these visits, the residents enjoy private time with the dogs and owners. The visits are important for the well-being of many seniors at TNJH, Veronica Brikker, therapeutic recreation leader explained to the Rag. “The presence of the dogs makes residents smile and feel better. Many people had dogs in their past and these visits bring back sweet memories.”
James and Alomar wanted to give back to the organization which they say has been so important to them. In honor of National Therapy Animal Day, which was celebrated on April 30th, the two women volunteered to help Brikker with a fundraising event for TGDF, which took place at TNJH on April 28th. All residents and staff were invited, as well as family members.
In the weeks leading up to the fundraiser, James and Alomar mobilized their peers, encouraging them to donate mugs, bake cookies, and attend the event. They also asked residents to crochet coasters and decorations for dog collars to be sold. At the end of the day, the event raised $620 for TGDF.
Brikker says she found it gratifying to watch the residents work together towards a common goal while helping TGDF. “They organized the sale, prepared the items, and sold them. It was a big success. There wasn’t even one mug left,” Brikker said.
“We’re so grateful to the folks at the New Jewish Home for thinking of Good Dog and directing their fundraising efforts to help us use the power of dog therapy to help people,” said Carly Goteiner, director of community engagement at TGDF.