Dawn Koeper is often following in the footsteps of a four-legged legend. Jersey, her five-year-old husky-hound mix, is a goodwill ambassador/companion dog at the healthcare center of Eastcastle Place retirement community. Dawn, who is Eastcastle Place’s full-time on-site dietician, brings Jersey with her to work each day to the delight of residents and staff alike. “it’s not unusual for people to greet Jersey more than they say ‘hi’ to me. They see Jersey and say ‘hi’ to her and pet her and make a fuss,” Dawn said.
She first realized the positive impact Jersey has on people when Dawn took her to visit her father at a nursing home. “Jersey would get more and more excited as she got in the car and we arrived at the building. She couldn’t wait to get inside. My dad’s in a wheelchair, and he holds Jersey’s leash and I push his chair, and he ‘walks the dog’. It really lifts his spirit,” Dawn said. “Jersey had been abandoned and abused, and I saw how happy she was being around people and I thought that it would be nice for her to have a ‘job’ and a place to go to hang out with people.”
“At Eastcastle Place, I heard people saying it would be nice to have a dog on-site. I asked the administrator if it would be okay to bring Jersey with me once a week. That went really well, and after a couple of months, it went to two-days each week. On the days I was without her, people would ask for her and eventually, they told me I needed to bring her every day,” said Dawn.
During the course of her workday, Jersey is often accompanying Dawn to visit residents. “If they’re okay with it, she’ll come with me to talk about meals, food, nutritional concerns, etc. If someone is anxious or nervous, she provides a nice, calm presence, and often helps people feel more at ease or calmed down,” said Dawn. Jersey also presents the opportunity for residents to think and talk about something other than how they’re feeling.
Jersey will also stroll unaccompanied through the halls. “She has free reign as long as I know where she is and who she’s around. I’m careful to keep her away from people who don’t like dogs,” said Dawn. “Yesterday there was an activity. She wandered in there and everyone was excited to see her. I needed to go elsewhere but she stayed on and everyone was happy.”
A few weeks ago, there was a big birthday celebration on campus; Jersey was the birthday girl. “Someone made a cake, there were balloons, and the residents sang Happy Birthday to her. Some of the residents had gifts and treats for her. It was a lot of fun,” said Dawn.
While Jersey provides warmth and kindness and kisses, one of her physical characteristics is her very best asset. “She’s got a wiggly butt. She wags her tail and her whole butt wiggles and it makes people laugh. It’s almost like that part of her body has its own little motor,” said Dawn.
Eastcastle Place is a Life Plan Community located on Milwaukee’s vibrant East Side. Eastcastle Place offers independent living, promoting an active and engaging life style for seniors. The Health Center at Eastcastle Place offers assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, thus providing complete continuing care for seniors. Eastcastle Place is managed by Life Care Services®. For additional information call 414-219-1398 or visit www.EastcastlePlace.com.