A Winning Combination for Seniors

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Pet therapy and volunteer youth activities are combined at Powhatan Nursing Home in Falls Church, Virginia to provide a partnership of community services that benefit all who participate.

For the past 20 years, the Fairfax County based Pets on Wheels program has provided Powhatan residents with pet visits that offer companionship, friendship, and unconditional love. The volunteer program has evolved into a family affair where children and teens, accompanied by their parents, bring their family pets to cheer, amuse, and delight nursing home residents.

Brenton Elliott, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, brings his dog (a Pug, appropriately named “Pugsly”) to greet Powhatan residents. At ease in the nursing home setting, Brenton and Pugsly have been volunteering for almost two years. With his mother and younger sister, and Pugsley at his heels, Brenton visits Powhatan a couple of times a month.

Brenton became involved in Pets on Wheels when he needed to perform community service work as a member of the National Honor Society. Although he has long since completed his required community service hours, Brenton continues volunteering with the Pets on Wheels program because he likes visiting with seniors and making them smile. Brenton, an accomplished violinist, says he has met really friendly people at Powhatan and feels a great deal of satisfaction from volunteering The part he enjoys the most, he says, is listening to the wonderful stories and sage advice.

Powhatan resident, Mrs. Edith Turner, is always thrilled to see Brenton and Pugsly. When asked about young Brenton, Mrs. Turner said, “He is a really nice fellow.’ She added, “I like his dog.” Mrs. Turner fondly reminisces about her own beloved dog “Poochie” and smiles. As she pets Pugsly, the years between youth and age melt away.

Kneeling at her side, Brenton Elliott listens to her stories. The sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from community service is evident on his face. The joy and delight of memories revisited radiate in Mrs. Turner’s eyes. Pets have become a vehicle to bring young people and seniors closer together.

The mission of Fairfax Pets on Wheels is “to provide companionship and an improved quality of life to Fairfax area residents, primarily in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, through regular pet visitation by trained volunteers and their approved pets.” Before gaining approval to enter the program, pets are rigorously screened to test their temperament and suitability for companion visits by Powhatan’s Pets on Wheels coordinator, Sabine Arndt.

Sabine provides an orientation to the nursing home for new volunteers and pets. She has seen first-hand the benefits of this program for the seniors and the youthful volunteers. Mrs. Turner, Brenton Elliott, and Pugsly are the embodiment of this mission.

By Dianne Hermann

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