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Residents of Local Assisted Living Home “Adopt” Stuffed Animals at Recent Event

Pam McElreath helping a resident choose an animal

On May 11th, an adoption event was held at the Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living Community where each resident got to choose a stuffed animal to keep. The event was organized by The Watauga Dementia Project as part of the local group’s efforts to distribute stuffed and robotic animals to dementia patients around the community. There were over 60 plush animals up for grabs, including a variety of cats, horses, cows, hens, lambs, and over 20 dog breeds. While the group’s efforts are mainly focused on serving those with dementia, the event was open to all 60 residents at the facility. “We figured that everyone could enjoy the event and the comfort of a stuffed animal, especially after the feelings of isolation imposed by the COVID restrictions,” says project coordinator Tyler Mancini. Each resident got to choose and name their animal, receive a polaroid picture, and sign an “Adoption Form” agreeing to love and care for their new friend. Local guitarist Andy Page sat in to perform some jazz tunes, even playing an impromptu duet with a harmonica-wielding resident.

Pictures taken by the staff and posted on Deerfield’s Facebook page show the emotional effect these animals had on the residents. Social Director Lorie Fidler remarks “The event was so heartwarming for everyone involved including staff and residents. Every single resident chose an animal that was so unique to them and their personalities. It is amazing to think that something so simple as a stuffed animal would be so comforting and bring so much joy to each and every one. The residents have not let go of their new pets and enjoy telling staff and other residents all about their special friend.”

The Watauga Dementia Project is a local group sponsored by The Friends of the Western Branch Watauga Library, an organization that “has been fortunate to receive grants and donations to create awareness and support for families affected by Dementia” says group founder Sandra Basil. Along with hosting more fun events at other facilities and distributing robotic therapy pets to in-home patients, the group is working to spread awareness about the disease and offer educational materials, support groups, and other resources to patients and caretakers in the community. Pam McElreath, a founder of the group and member of the National Alzheimer’s Early Onset Advisory Board shared some words on the event and the project’s purpose: “You are given little hope when you receive a diagnosis for dementia but if we can talk, share ideas, and create support in our community, the sooner we will start seeing HOPE for this disease. This event was full of hope. I saw hope in the smiles, the hugs, and the sweet names the residents gave to their new animal friends. I couldn’t have hoped for more!”. To view more photos from the event and learn about the group’s continued efforts, visit their page on Facebook: The Watauga Dementia Project.

Robert Calhoon and his cat “Calico”
Linda Habershaw and her cow “Moo”
Jack Callahan and Alan Zeliff volunteering at the event