News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Romeo's Joy brings companionship to Lodge residents

The Lodge in Sisters was recently the scene of smiles, excitement, and good feelings as 15 residents received an interactive animatronic dog, cat, or bird from members of the Sisters Middle School fifth-grade Sunshine Club.

Romeo's Joy, headed by Sisters resident Cheryl Pellerin, is an Action Team of Age Friendly Sisters Country, and provides Sisters-area residents who are at risk of social isolation, living with dementia, and/or unable to have the companionship of a live pet, with an interactive pet free of charge.

Photo Courtesy Romeo's Joy

A special happiness was evident as animatronic pets were delivered to residents by members of the Sunshine Club.

Research suggests that pet therapy can positively impact the quality of life for people, particularly those living alone or in care facilities. However, some people may not be able to care for and/or afford a live pet. A live pet may result in a fall or injury to an older person or to someone with a disability. Others may have allergies to live animals.

Joy For All companion pets are an award-winning alternative to a live pet and were designed to respond to the sound of a voice and touch, creating a two-way interaction with purring and meowing, barking, soft snoring, and chirping. Movements include head turning, tail wagging, eyes opening and closing, and paw licking.

Photo Courtesy Romeo's Joy

Mechanical animals can help with reminiscence therapy.

Pellerin discovered these special pets when her own mother developed Alzheimer's disease, and could no longer care for her dog. The animatronic dog provided companionship and interaction for her mother.

Prior to that, Pellerin and her Australian Labradoodle, Romeo, trained to become a certified pet therapy team. For many years, Romeo brought joy to children's hospitals and care facilities. During the pandemic, Pellerin, her husband, and their two Australian Labradoodles, Romeo and Juliet, moved to Sisters. Following the loss of Romeo, Pellerin decided to write a children's book titled "Romeo's Joy." She then founded the nonprofit Romeo's Joy in his memory to continue to share his joyful spirit. The animals act like real pets but without the need for vet bills, long walks, feeding, or cleaning up.

The Lodge was her first venue for sharing Romeo's Joy. Her next goal is to reach out to people in the community who may be alone and unable to have a live pet.

For her efforts, Pellerin has received funding from The Roundhouse Foundation, Citizens4Community, St. Charles Health System, and Age Friendly Sisters Country.

Members of the Sunshine Club, which was started by SMS teacher Amy Guthrie, meet at school during their activity period, and visit The Lodge residents once a month to interact through a variety of activities with the residents. They were recruited to dispense the companion pets individually to the residents who had requested one.

Photo by Sue Stafford

Sunshine Club members from Sisters Middle School bring sunshine to residents of The Lodge.

The joy spread throughout The Lodge was palpable when the animals were given to the residents. As the pets came out of their boxes, immediate smiles appeared and very quickly recipients were talking to and petting their new companions. The dogs and cats come with a brush for grooming. The bird can ride on a walker and reminds people to use their walker.

Veterans' homes, senior living facilities, and hospice and palliative care organizations across the country are providing the companion animals to their residents. The realistic barks, purrs, meows, chirps, and movement provide them with visual and sensory stimulation.

Mechanical animals can also help residents engage in reminiscence therapy which involves using prompts such as photos and music to stir memories and conversation – by evoking recollections of their childhood pets.

The cost of the animals runs $100–$140 for a dog, $125–$140 for a cat, and around $47 for a bird. For more information, visit Romeo's Joy website, http://www.romeosjoy.com.

 

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