RUSSELL, Ky. — Morning Pointe Senior Living is an Alzheimer's assisted living care facility with dedicated staff members — including animals.
Jack Russell, a terrier with an all-around appropriate name, visits Morning Pointe every day to provide pet therapy.
Jack belongs to Elizabeth Townsend, executive director of Morning Pointe, or maybe she belongs to him.
"He certainly does provide lots of emotional support to lots of our residents," Townsend said. "He's got a trail of residents that he likes to check in on. We have a couple of residents who keep treats for him in their apartment.
"He's pretty attentive, and if somebody is having a day where they're down or they just need somebody to pay some extra attention to them, Jack is able to sense that and spends a little more time with them."
Townsend said she's been bringing Jack to work with her since she joined the staff in March last year. He even has his name on her door.
"He's been my dog most of his life, and he was never hyper like a normal Jack Russell," Townsend said. "He was just always empathetic and sweet. And I've worked in the skilled nursing environment for lots of years and he went to work with me there, too. So he's got lots of experience in the health care setting."
Jack brings joy to each of the residents, and he spends quality time with them throughout the day, which Townsend said is like therapy for them. They can feed him treats, pet him, cuddle with him or just talk with him.
"He's always willing to be a friend," Helen Motycka, a Morning Pointe resident, said.
Townsend said she thinks Jack enhances the environment at Morning Pointe.
"I think that pets bring a spontaneity to any life; it's really entertaining whenever you see a dog just take off running," she said. "That spontaneity is important. You lose that sometimes in an institutional setting."
Katie Smith, life enrichment director, said Jack is the unofficial mascot of the memory care facility, and the entire campus facility is his home away from home.
"One of the good things about Jack is he is not just a staple with the residents; he is a staple with the associates, too," Smith said. "We all love him, and we all miss him when he isn't here. You can definitely tell on the weekends when he isn't here. It's a different air. Whenever you can hear his little jingle jangle down the hallway, it's much happier."
Once a month, another furry friend visits Morning Pointe. Midnight Moon is a black mastiff who checks in on the residents during his time at the campus. He comes in the evenings after dinner, when Jack is almost certainly not around, as the two pups don't often get along.
"Midnight Moon lives in Portsmouth, and his mother brings him in," Townsend said. "She does a circuit with him. He's just so spectacular because he's so huge."
Morning Pointe is also home to more than 35 turtles in its Turtle Courtyard. What began as a rescue space for injured turtles quickly became an adorable learning environment for residents, as well as an impressive garden full of flowers and vegetables, brought about by the turtles and their diet. Smith said people have continued to donate turtles, though they do like to release some back into the wild once they are healed.
"The turtles were brought in and donated to us, and we have other people who bring them and donate them, which we don't mind," Smith said. "We want to take them back to where they were found once they're healed, but a lot of these have just become lifelong pets."
One of the residents even educates herself about turtles so she can teach fellow residents what she's learned. She hosts talks twice a month.
"They love to be educated about it, and it gives them another focus, a good learning experience, but we also get the residents involved with feeding them," Smith said. "It gives them a sense of duty toward them. We even have a couple of the residents who come up here and tend the garden to give the turtles a good, clear space. And they are so happy to do it, and it's a good, serene atmosphere out here."
Smith has been working at Morning Pointe for just a few months, but she said one of her goals is to increase the number of pets and animals that visit the facility, as well as to potentially foster animals at the campus.
"We're definitely branching out with the pet therapies and things like that," she said. "They were without somebody in my position for a while, so I'm just kind of getting into my niche, so to speak. I've been reaching out a lot to the humane society and veterinarians' offices, and we're starting to get more pets and more and more people interested."
Those interested in volunteering with their pets for a visit to Morning Pointe must have proof of shots and immunization and be licensed therapy pets or emotional support animals, Smith said.
An important aspect of Morning Pointe is that residents are allowed to have their own pets in their apartments, and Townsend said they encourage it. Smith said the routine of having a pet helps the residents.
"The residents are allowed to bring their own pets, and we do have several," Smith said. "Because they're good comfort animals, and a lot of times, the routine keeps everything sharp. It's something to just reach down and get unconditional love. It's cheesy, but it works. It works for the pets, but it works mostly for the residents, and they love it.
"No matter a good day or a bad day, though, this is what I love about the pets. They always remember to care for the pets."