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“Give her some love, Chico,” Rose Schnitzer Manor resident Rachel Hasson cajoles the Humpty Dumpty-shaped, poodle-mix, ball of hair waddling down the hall beside her. Chico edges closer to the ankle of a passing neighbor, offering his greying muzzle for a pat. If he’s in the right mood, a bubble-gum pink tongue darts out for a quick lick. Rachel, a retired pediatrician from Los Angeles and an accomplished artist, is one of the growing number of elders arriving at Rose Schnitzer with dogs, cats, perhaps even a rabbit or gerbil — we haven’t asked — in tow.

“Duffy and Baily know when David is unwell,” Harriet Dietz says of her and husband David’s two look-alike but unrelated terrier-beagle blends. The extraordinarily lively doggy duo “jump into our bed buffering David between them when he’s hurting,” she laughs, adding that you can see David’s pain reflected in the dogs’ deep soft eyes. When the Dietz’s — former Bend residents — moved from Portland’s Pearl District to Rose Schnitzer Manor, their “canine kids” were part of the package.

Even though Harriet has strong ties to CSP and Rose Schnitzer — her mother was the artist Sylvia Shlim for whom her father dedicated a manor wing — “Leaving our animals behind would have been a definite deal breaker,” she explains as David revs up his motorized scooter to take his turn at ushering the dogs on their fifth walk of the day. Are Duffy and Baily helping get the couple through our coronavirus confinement? “Don’t ask,” she laughs.

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows there’s nothing quite like the slightly slurpy feel of a dog’s welcoming lick or the soft vibration of a cat’s thrumming purr as it rubs against your leg. Scientists and pet owners have known for decades that animals can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase social interaction and physical activity. Pets provide other intangibles, too. “Dogs and cats live very much in the present,” says Dr. Jay P Granat, a New Jersey-based psychotherapist. “They don’t worry about tomorrow, which can be a very scary concept for an older person. An animal embodies that sense of here and now, and it tends to rub off on people.”

‘If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.’ – Roger Caras

A recent AARP-sponsored National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted by the University of Michigan found 55% of older adults ages 60 to 80 say their pets help them enjoy life and feel taken care of. A vast majority of respondents cite their pets for keeping them physically active and able to stick to a routine. Pets can also have an astounding effect on symptoms of depression and feelings of loneliness

Rose Schnitzer Manor’s Elaine Rosenthal couldn’t agree more. Elaine is a people person who likes to remind her friends she “has broad shoulders” and is prepared to sit down and hash out even the most personal of topics. Fellow-residents delight in her daily company. Netty, the caramel-colored poodle mix who arrived with her from Wyoming, is an extravert in her own right albeit a bit shaggy. Netty has evolved into a Rose Schnitzer mascot. More important, this happy pup provides Elaine with loving companionship during these long hours of self-confinement. “I’m never really alone,” she says of the quarantine.

“A while back,” Elaine adjusts her glasses, “I took Netty for a seasonal trim and for some unknown reason the groomer decided to shave most of my dog’s hair off. My friends here at the Manor went absolutely ballistic. ‘Sue the groomer,’ someone advised. Everyone had an opinion. It was amazing to me how people had grown so very attached to my Netty.”

Judy Ross, a wiry woman with fiery red hair and a fierce intelligence, can be found most mornings in Rose Schnitzer’s Goodman Lounge pouring over the print issue of The New York Times. No digital editions for Judy. And don’t bother looking for tweets from this highly articulate former East Coaster. Today, though, something is different. Moxie isn’t with her. “He died,” she slumps a bit in her chair.

Judy has lost her protégé, her life witness, her primary companion and the comfort of a relationship and routines. Grieving a pet is complicated. Judy’s spirit, though, shines through. “My husband and I were both born to parents who disliked pets. As soon as we married, we got our first dog. If you’re lucky,” the long-time pet owner quotes an unknown source, “a dog will come into your life, steal your heart and change everything.” She won’t cry because the relationship is over. She’ll smile because it happened.

‘I have felt cats rubbing their faces against mine and touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me, are expressions of love.’  – James Herriot

Rose Schnitzer residents Jane Rosenbaum and Gordon Jensen couldn’t agree more with the late British veterinarian. Gordan and Jean had known each other casually eons back in high school. When they met again twelve-or-so years ago it was love at second site. Each came into the new relationship with a cat — his Cece and her Abie — and all four hit it off beautifully. These days when self-confinement and meals alone is wearing thin for most of us, Cece and Abie bring an extra coating of comfort and companionship into their owners’ lives.

A whopping 48% of AARPs poll respondents were cat owners. Marie Godfrey and Shyrlee Goodman are very much a part of that proportion. Both are long-time cat lovers who brought their furry family members with them to Rose Schnitzer. Both women will tell you their feline friends are low maintenance, fiercely independent and value their own alone time.

Marie Godfrey, a former geneticist with a razor-sharp scientist’s intellect, loses all objectivity when she talks about Panther and Cricket. “Cricket, named for DNA scientist Francis Crick, is the alpha cat and Panther the subsidiary at least until bedtime,” she bats playfully at a furry paw. “Then Panther grabs the place of honor on our bed and spreads out so Cricket has very little room. Panther is a little sneaky and though he tries, he’s not allowed to leave the apartment. Cricket, however, thoroughly enjoys padding down the hall for regular visits with my neighbors. Even Rachel’s Chico is on good terms with him.”

Cats have shared portions of Shyrlee Goodman’s life for forty years. She understands and respects the feline gestalt as only a long-time cat lover can. Attempting to define a cat somehow defies words. Ask how her current roommate Chloe is making life more bearable these days and the handsome East Coast native shrugs her shoulders as if to credit the animal with providing profound comfort in its’ own enigmatic cat-like way.

HAPPINESS STARTS WITH A WET NOSE AND ENDS WITH A TAIL

It’s interesting and gratifying to note that every one of the four-legged Rose Schnitzer dwellers was retrieved from an animal shelter or no-kill refuge. Like their owners, all the pets at Rose Schnitzer are seniors. Like their owners, all are navigating the perils of old age with grace and humor and love.

Arlene Layton retired to Rose Schnitzer Manor in 2016. She is a native Oregonian with a passion for writing. Her career included Communications Director for Lloyd Corporation Ltd., Public Information and Communication Manager for the Oregon Historical Society and Development and Marketing Director for the North coast’s non-profit public broadcasting stations operating as Coast Community Radio (KMUN) in Astoria.

Photo Credit: Veritas Collaborations and Marie Godfrey (RSM resident).

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