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Pet perking up residents’ lives at SK nursing home

Gracie is one gal who can’t wait to get to work every morning. And if you had her job, you’d probably feel the same way.

Really, her only duty is to walk around saying, “Hi.”

And everywhere she goes, people smile. And call out her name. Or reach out to pet her and give her treats.

Gracie is a dog, and she works — if you can call it working — at Life Care Center in Port Orchard.

Her full name is Amazing Grace, and she is a 10-year-old boxer and black lab mix the center adopted about three weeks ago from the Kitsap Humane Society. And although technically she goes home every night with the center’s activities director, Marie Carter, Gracie’s days are spent as an honorary, canine resident.

Carter said she got the idea for a full-time, four-legged friend by seeing how much the human residents looked forward to the weekly visits from Dot English, who brought in animals from the Humane Society every Friday.

“It’s so nice to see all those faces light up, and I thought how nice it would be to have that every day,” Carter said, explaining that one of the things residents say they miss the most about home life is having pets.

“Gracie just gives the place a calm, home-like atmosphere,” she said.

The residents pet her, visit with her, and often give her presents like toys or treats.

Add even if all that attention puts on a few pounds, Carter said Grace could “stand to get a little pudge. When we got her, she was pretty skinny.”

And having an animal around doesn’t just improve the residents’ emotional well-being, but their health, as well, Carter said, pointing out that research consistently shows that petting animals lowers your blood pressure.

The center couldn’t adopt just any pet, however.

Carter said she was looking for an “older lady” with a very mellow, friendly disposition, who would be comfortable around people of all ages who used all types of walking apparatuses.

“We needed somebody that wouldn’t get upset around wheelchairs,” Carter said. “That first week, I took her around to see how she would react. She saw walkers, wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs, and she did great. I knew she would be the right fit.”

Carter said while Gracie has been a positive addition to all the residents’ lives, she has been especially helpful in cheering up bed-ridden patients and others who can’t readily leave their rooms.

“Every morning when we get here, I take Gracie through the halls and we greet everyone,” Carter said, explaining that often Gracie can form bonds with residents who are otherwise very withdrawn.

She said the dog has effected an amazing change in one fairly new resident, Brenda Sharpe. Much younger than most of the other residents, Carter said Sharpe was reluctant to engage in social activities.

Since Gracie came along, however, Carter said Sharpe is slowly coming out of her shell, interacting with people more and even expressing interest in joining a group heading out to the Airport Diner for lunch recently.

All in all, Carter said Gracie has been a wonderful addition to the center and to even her own household, though she already had a full family before adopting her.

“I didn’t really need another dog at home,” Carter admits, laughing. “I have three Yorkies, a chow, and a kitten. But she gets along with all of them.”

It might be a little crowded, but it’s worth it, she said, because she knows how much the residents enjoy having Grace around.

And, apparently, the feeling is mutual.

“I’ll say to her, ‘Want to go to work?’ and she’ll wag her tail and get all excited,” Carter said. “She knows where we’re going.”

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