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New dog brings joy to nursing home residents

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Perham Living resident Liz Soderstrom and Household Coordinator Julie Sanders take a moment to stop and pet Duke.

Perham Living residents are making a new four-legged friend.

Duke, a black Labrador retriever, is becoming a familiar, friendly face around the nursing home, bringing smiles to dog-lovers as he's spotted around the hallways.

Introduced as the new resident dog just after the New Year, Duke is slowly growing accustomed to his new surroundings.

Karen Laughlin, life enhancement coordinator for Perham Living, said she and Duke's other handlers are trying to make him comfortable in his new home one 'household' at a time. Perham Living is broken up into six households of 16 residents each.

For now, Duke's spending time in the Burlington household. After he's familiar with that area, he'll move on to another household, and then another, until he's gotten to know the entire place and all the people.

People like Lorraine Johnson, for example, who grins when Duke's name is mentioned.

"I'm getting to know him," she said during an interview last week.

The two have already shared an up close and personal moment, as a matter of fact: Duke gave her a healthy lick across the face after breakfast the other morning, cleaning up every last bit of egg stuck on her cheek.

And Liz Soderstrom, who was happy to pose for a picture with Duke last week, watched him, smiling, and said she really liked having a dog around again.

Perham Living residents have been without a dog since last April, when they sadly lost their long-time friend, Lucky. Lucky was much-beloved, bringing joy into the lives of residents every day for 11 years.

Laughlin hopes that, in time, all the residents will come to know and love Duke in that same way.

"He's a very, very good dog," she said. "He's very calm...pretty submissive. We really feel good about the fit. And we're going to try to get it right."

Part of 'getting it right' is introducing Duke to the facility slowly, so as not to overwhelm him. Newly adopted from The Marshmallow Foundation in Detroit Lakes, he's not used to being in such a large space, around so many people and so much activity.

Another important part of the process is training.

Household Coordinator Julie Sanders is one of Duke's main handlers. She's been taking him to obedience classes, where he's learning basic commands like "sit" and "stay." After that, he'll continue on to more advanced classes. By the time he's done (in a few months), he'll be a trained therapy dog.

By that point, Duke should have free reign of all the Perham Living households, and he'll start participating in some structured activities with the residents.

"We're very excited to have a dog in the facility again," said Katie Lundmark, senior director of long-term care at Perham Living. "Some of the residents just have pure joy when they see him."

"Residents are excited," said Laughlin. "There are a few of them that just can't wait for the time when Duke can come and spend some time with them."

Duke was donated to Perham Living by one of the facility's volunteers. He was chosen for his young-adult age and good nature, as well as his height - he's tall, and that makes it easier for residents in wheelchairs to pet him.

Taking care of Duke has been a group effort among Perham Living staff. Sanders and Laughlin, as well as Lundmark, Sue Sailer and others, all share in seeing to Duke's needs. Tuffy's Pet Foods has donated a lifetime supply of NutriSource dog food for him.

Introducing a new dog into the nursing home takes time, patience and work, but it's all well worth it to the staff and residents at Perham Living.

"We want residents to have that companionship," said Laughlin. "Some just love dogs...and they've missed having a dog around."