Pooches on Parade lights up Witherell

At less than a foot tall, Zinger, a honey-colored 7-year-old dachshund, still managed to hold the attention of everyone in the room at Nathaniel Witherell nursing home Monday.

The home’s residents watched with bated breath as they waited for the inquisitive dog to perform one of his tricks.

“Roll over,” his owner commanded.

Zinger paused, as all eyes fixed on him. A moment later, the dachshund finally rolled over and was rewarded with a treat.

Thirty residents gathered in the auditorium of the town nursing home and rehabilitation center Monday for the summer celebration of Pooches on Parade. Drawing on volunteer pets and their owners from the community, such as Zinger and her owner, Lee Paine, the Pooches on Parade program provided an hourlong visit with 12 community dogs.

The presence of dogs was both a comfort to the residents and a reminder of their own pets.

“I love them,” said resident Mary Lancaster. “I’m a natural dog lover.”

For Lancaster, Pooches On Parade brought back memories of her old German shepherd.

“People always feel good when they’re around pets,” said Mary Bruce, the director of therapeutic recreation at Witherell. Bruce, who emceed the event, injected humor into the proceedings, often commenting on the dogs and their owners.

“Wow! Two breeds that everyone avoids in one dog,” said Bruce of Maggie, a 2-year-old Doberman-Rottweiler mix.

But Maggie followed the guard-dog stereotypes of neither breed in her behavior; she was excited, but friendly to everyone. In fact, every dog present managed relative obedience. Some were overly excited by the presence of so many dogs and people in one place, but others were old hands — or paws — at volunteering.

Zinger and her owner have been visiting Nathaniel Witherell for three years now.

“She has this tremendous instinct for people,” said Paine of Zinger, who greets every passing stranger, most of whom stop to pet her. “She’s friendly with everyone.”

“My neighbors call her `the mayor,’ ” Paine added of her dog, who seems to be a human magnet. When Paine takes Zinger on walks, the other dog-walkers she runs into are more likely to know Zinger’s name than her own, she said.

Despite Zinger’s talents, the real canine star of the day was Merry, a 10-month-old black pug who is the nursing home’s unofficial pet therapist. The pet of Linda Marini, an administrative assistant at Witherell, Merry first visited the nursing home because she was too young to be left at home alone.

“Now they’re looking for her, not me,” said Marini of the staff and residents when she arrives at Witherell.

Merry’s following doesn’t end at the doors of the nursing home. She also has a blog — dailydoseofmerry.tumblr.com — maintained by Marini’s daughter. The blog consists mostly of Merry dressed up in cute outfits with clever captions, including abbreviations such as LHS, or “Little Human Sister.”

As if that’s not enough fame for a pooch, Merry is scheduled for an Aug. 21 television appearance, on News 12’s “Pet Talk” with Lauren Collier, for a segment about the use of pet therapy in rehabilitation and nursing homes.

The presence of dogs at Witherell does not end with Pooches on Parade; volunteers bring their dogs year round to visit the residents.

“We invite any friendly dogs to be pet therapy volunteers,” said volunteer coordinator Sally Van Leeuwen, who organized the event.

Unlike some nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, Witherell is relatively easygoing with rules for visiting dogs. As long as they have the proper state-required vaccinations, dogs need not go through extensive dog therapy training or medical procedures before visiting with residents.

The administration once considered having a dog to be there for the residents full time, but eventually the idea was dropped. Now Witherell has a part-time resident in Merry, who comes to work every morning with Paine.

“A dog needs to live with a person,” Paine explained.

Judging from the warm reception the canines had from the residents and staff, that need might go both ways.

Read more: http://www.greenwichtime.com/news/article/Pooches-on-Parade-lights-up-Witherell-1587137.php#ixzz1VJJZ2Vuj

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