September 8, 2009
Juju brings smiles to elderly
Poodle, her owner volunteer at Cortland Care Center weekly on Fridays
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Helene Blackwell of Cortland brings her 2-year-old dog Juju to visit residents at Cortland Care Center on Fridays. Blackwell has spent the past year volunteering at the nursing home on Clinton Avenue.
Almost everyone at the Cortland Care Center looks forward to their weekly visit from Juju.
The 2-year-old poodle-havanese mixed breed is a therapy dog who roams the halls of the Clinton Avenue nursing home with her owner, Helene Blackwell, visiting residents.
Blackwell has spent the past year volunteering at the Cortland Care Center each Friday afternoon.
Her and Juju’s visits are fairly informal. They sit, talk, have a few laughs as Juju makes herself at home on a resident’s lap. Occasionally, Juju will perform a few tricks, such as bowing or rolling over.
“We all know Juju,” said 85-year-old Pauline Chayka. “We’ve enjoyed every minute of every visit.”
Pauline Chayka’s husband, Michael, 91, is a full-time resident of the Cortland Care Center.
Sitting comfortably in a recliner, Michael Chayka smiled and petted Juju when she playfully jumped onto his lap.
“I got to like her and she got to like me,” he said.
Blackwell decided to visit the nursing home with her dog after she retired as a case manager for Cortland Catholic Charities.
“I wanted to be able to do something that might be helpful,” she said.
First Juju had to pass a few tests to be certified as a therapy dog. Those tests revolved around her disposition toward people and her obedience, Blackwell said.
As she roams the hallways with Juju on a leash, Blackwell knocks on a door and asks if that resident would like a visit.
“Most people will say, ‘Sure,’” Blackwell said.
Juju is almost always greeted with a warm smile and outstretched arms.
Blackwell said training and experience have helped Juju know whom to be playful with and whom to be calm with at the nursing home.
The visits often remind the residents of a pet they have or once had, Blackwell said.
The Cortland Care Center tries to create a familiar home atmosphere, said Paula Swem, the center’s activities director.
Volunteers are an important part of nursing home work, she said. Last year more than 60 people volunteered at the care center, most of whom were from various church groups, Swem said.
Volunteers such as Blackwell, who visit one-on-one with residents, are the most helpful, she said.
“I think it helps the individual still be living a life that is something they want to do,” Swem said.
Part of the center’s philosophy is it wants residents to think of it as a place to live, not a place to die, she added.
Blackwell said she enjoys the attitudes of Cortland Care Center residents.
“I really respect the people we visit because most of them are uncomplaining and appreciative,” she said.
There are many activities the Cortland Care Center uses to keep residents busy, active and having fun, Swem said.
She said everyone is helped to participate, regardless of their mental or physical condition.
Sing-alongs are popular, as well as games that help with body movement such as bowling on the Nintendo Wii, she said.
When Blackwell and Juju leave a room, most residents still have smiles on their faces and say: “See you next week.”
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