A Partnership between Wildrose Kennels and The Pinnacle
By Dr. Ben McClelland
“Typically, a therapy dog has one handler and caregiver. What happens when a dog has multiple handlers and caregivers? And it serves as a therapeutic assistant for many people? That’s the life and career of a facility canine. Such a situation requires a great dog and an equally great facility staff. Mira and The Pinnacle are the definitive example of this cooperative arrangement.” –Scott Wilson
For well over a decade Wildrose Kennels has been involved in raising and training service dogs, in addition to gundog and adventure dog companions. In 2008 “Wildrose established the Masters of Scent program and our progeny gained a significant reputation with the Service Dog Community – diabetic alert companions, accelerant detection, search and rescue canines and therapy dog companions.” The following year Wildrose held the first National Conference for Diabetic Alert Dogs and also “founded the Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation housed with Create Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit to support the placement of Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs. The foundation continues today as Wildrose Service Companions” (Wildrose Historic Timeline) and we thank all our gracious donors who make placing dogs like Mira possible through this fund. Over the years Wildrose has placed numerous dogs for scent alert service work and as therapy companions. In 2014 I edited Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs, a book published by Koehler Books, featuring a dozen medical alert teams.
Drs. Scott and Roxy Wilson relocated to Oxford from Illinois and became game-changers for Wildrose’s service dog program. In 2015 they adopted Widgeon, who took to his retirement career as a therapy dog and, with Scott’s guidance, earned his American Kennel Club Therapy Dog designation in less than a year. For two years Scott and Widgeon volunteered as a therapy team, visiting area schools, hospitals, and retirement homes. Scott soon became a licensed Pet Partners therapy team evaluator and in 2017 he became a certified educator for canine service teams in North Mississippi and West Tennessee.
Scott and Widgeon—along with other Wildrose service dog teams, including Eider and I—made regular weekly visits to various care facilities, including Pinnacle, a full-service assisted living community with a memory care center. As Scott notes, residents in community care facilities respond well when a therapy dog visits because it’s a change of pace, a break from the daily routine. Moreover, most everyone is generally aware that there are positive health benefits from a friendly dog visit, but Scott reports the specific health benefits, as documented in scientific studies: a 63% reduction in blood pressure; 3% slower breathing rate; 22% drop in pain severity; 19% boost in energy; 48% decrease in depression; 64% drop in feelings of anger; and 39% decrease in pain (Nagengast, Coakley, and Mahonel).
Besides the fact that Mira is an exceptional canine, her success as a resident facility therapy dog can be attributed to the staff’s whole-hearted commitment to her membership in their community life. Quite literally, Mira lives in the Pinnacle offices. Her kennel and primary bed, plus food and assorted care items, are located in the office of Mary Margaret Wamble, the Activities Director. Mira’s schedule for airing, feeding, exercise, training, and visiting is posted there. But she also has a bed in the office of Nicole Smith, the Executive Director, one in the office of Ryan Fulcher, Director of Nursing, and one in the physical therapy area. Displayed in the hallway, a colorful poster with Mira’s picture welcomes her as a new resident.
Not only did each staff member take ownership of the idea, but also all of them (who also have personal pets at home) bonded with Mira and integrated her into their daily routines. So, as soon as Ryan arrives each morning, he takes Mira out for her morning exercise. When LPN Maddie McFarland, begins her morning rounds to wake residents and give them their medications, Mira accompanies her in each room. The residents respond enthusiastically to Mira. In fact, she motivates many of them to wake up and begin their days, especially some who were slow to arise in the past.
Likewise, when Mary Margaret Wamble, the Activities Director, begins her daily routine, Mira not only accompanies her, but also actively participates in all of the events, including the arts-and-crafts session, and the once-monthly resident counsel meeting for all residents. Moreover, every weekday at 9:30 a.m. Mary Margaret takes Mira outside in an enclosed yard to interact with the memory care residents.
Mira, essentially, is an adjunct staff member. She’s not just a visitor or an accessory. She’s a principal participant in daily life at Pinnacle.
Some residents also include Mira in their daily—and nightly—routines. Bill and Dot Denton, for example, make daily visits with Mira a special time. Bill, who had owned a wonderful Labrador, has bonded with Mira, inviting her to join him in his suite for extended stays, usually including napping with him. Another resident, Rosemary Adams, who stays active in the evenings when others are abed, walks with Mira throughout the facility. They both enjoy the quiet companion time together.
For her part, Mira is an active partner. She is not a passive presence; rather, she seeks close physical engagement with everyone—including an occasional, gentle lick on the hand or cheek for those residents who offer themselves to it. Many residents want to pet Mira. Others want more physical contact, including letting her touch them.
Wildrose Neon Mira, “Mira” was born on December 7, 2012, at Wildrose Mississippi of parents with distinctive heritage. Her sire was Field Trial Champion Delfleet Neon of Fendawood, “Del.” Her dam was Astraglen Farah “Molly,” a Heritage dam. From her early days Mira received background training in the home of a Wildrose trainer. A puppy with high energy, she showed promise of becoming a great retriever. Entering into formal gundog training at seven months of age, she successfully progressed all the way through the program. After she passed her training course and all of her health exams, she qualified to become a mama dog for Wildrose. Following a wonderful career delivering many fine litters, Mira was retired from the breeding program—at seven years old—and placed with a family that always found her so sweet and loving. However, two years after her placement, circumstances changed with the family and she rejoined the staff back at Wildrose, staying with a trainer and awaiting the best placement for the next chapter of her life. When the staffs of Pinnacle and Wildrose began pursuing the idea of a facility dog for The Pinnacle, they found that nine-year-old Mira was the perfect fit.
Because of the Pinnacle residents’ positive experiences with therapy team visits by Wildrose dogs, such as Widgeon, Roxy, and Eider, the staff discussed the idea of getting a dog full-time, one that would be theirs, one that would be available as the residents’ companion every day. So, the staff made a unanimous decision, discussed the idea with Scott, and the planning began, eventually leading to trial visits with Mira in January, 2022, and to her placement at Pinnacle as her home. From the first day this venture looked very promising and in just a few months it has become a resounding success.
Even with Mira’s impressive debut as a facility dog, challenges await her and the staff as their venture moves forward. One has already become evident: the residents, being kindhearted, naturally want to offer Mira treats. And she loves receiving them. Scott acknowledges this issue, telling an anecdote about another facility dog: “My first encounter with a facility dog in an assisted living environment was at the Mississippi State Veterans Home. One of the staff had a marvelous golden retriever, Clifford, who was as friendly as he could be and more than willing to approach and comfort any of the residents and staff. I met Clifford the first time I visited the MS VA home with my first therapy dog teammate, Wildrose Widgeon. Clifford had one serious health issue—his weight. Unfortunately, everyone including the staff was willing and anxious to feed treats to Clifford. Consequently, he weighed twice his optimal weight, but I’m quite certain he never complained. Therein lies one of the major challenges for a facility dog. Not only does the canine have to manage his own bathroom habits, the dog must remain calm, friendly, fearless, stable, and responsive—and occasionally politely refuse food when offered. Moreover, the staff and residents must assist in this task.”
The Pinnacle staff has begun to do its part by posting a notice about Mira’s nutrition and urging that nobody give her treats. Following through on this policy on a regular basis is the challenge that everyone faces.
I know that all Wildrose pack members join me in wishing Mira a fulfilling life as she helpfully touches the lives of all of those in her home—Pinnacle of Oxford.
Nagengast SL: The Effects of the presence of a companion animal on psychological arousal and behavioral distress in children during aphysical examination. Journal of Pediatric Nursing 19976. Coakley A, Mahonel E; Creating a therapeutic and healing environment with a pet therapy program. Therapeutic Clinical Practice. 2009,15930,141-145.
Wildrose Website, Historic Timeline.