The COVID-19 pandemic is making it impossible for families and friends to visit their loved ones in nursing homes, meaning most family interactions must take place digitally or from behind windows. This is contributing to the already serious loneliness many nursing home patients experience, so facilities are looking for ways to creatively and safely improve the morale of their elderly residents. On April 29, 2020, in Poway, California, the Boulder Creek Post Acute assisted living center brightened up residents’ day in a big way by bringing in two special animal visitors.
In partnership with the Helen Woodward Animal Center, the assisted living center brought in a pair of alpacas to visit with residents. The animals, part of the animal center’s Pet Encounter Therapy Program, and are named Kronk and Kuzco after the Disney film The Emperor’s New Groove. While seniors are usually able to pet and cuddle with the dogs, bunnies, cats, and other animals as part of the program, given the circumstances, the alpaca visit took place through the window of a dining hall.
Program manager Robin Cohen said in a press release, “In the many years I have worked with this program, I have seen the unique gifts each animal can bring to this type of therapy […] These alpacas are some of our funniest characters. They make us laugh every day, and we knew they’d be the perfect key to inspiring smiles right now.”
The visit was so popular with residents that a follow-up is already being planned.
“The one thing I know from my work,” said Cohen, “is that animals have a magical way of healing.”