NaplesNews.com - On a Tuesday in July, Michener, 83, was coaxed into a circle of fellow residents at Mooring Park where Celeste Lynch, director of wellness, led discussions about old family pets.
Brennan introduced each patient to Gemma, whom they have met with for months but don't always remember. Once he was reminded of her name, Michener was the most vocal during the session, calling Gemma to his side by patting his leg and making kissing sounds.
"Gemma, Gemma, come here," he said.
When Lynch asked Michener what his German shepherds' names were, he easily remembered Lobo, but took time to think of the second name. Minutes later, it occurred to him.
"Saber," he said, smiling, before describing the dogs' coloring, weight and behavior during thunderstorms.
Gemma and Brennan were certified through a national animal-assisted therapy organization. Animal-assisted therapy is different from having an animal visit hospital patients, said Brody Project executive director Karen Lasker. The dogs in the program help patients reach long-term therapy goals by working one-on-one or in groups regularly.
Gemma's sandy fur is fading. Her muzzle and face have turned white, and she doesn't hear so well in her old age.
But Brennan said each time she takes out Gemma's purple Brody Project Bandanna, the dog knows she's headed to meet patients.
"Her tail gets going," Brennan said.
The dementia patients who gathered that Tuesday at Moorings Park had the same conversation they do each week, trying to remember their dog's names and ages and how much they weighed. One woman who has been to each session promised to add the group's regular visit to her calendar to remember it the next time.
"They did pretty good today," Lynch said after Gemma and Brennan left.
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Photo by Scott McIntyre