The Presence of Pets


presencephotoBringing comfort and companionship to those who need it most

By Ann M. Noser


The presence of animals has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression while increasing self-esteem. In Rochester, a senior living community and a woman with certified therapy dogs have witnessed the benefits of including pets in daily life. 


Cottagewood Senior Communities Memory Care in Rochester has been a pet-friendly campus for years. Community cats and dogs reside on premises, and the personal pets of resident are welcomed.

Benefits of inviting dogs, cats, fish and even miniature horses on occasion are bountiful. The animals provide companionship and comfort. For seniors still able to walk, having the task of a daily stroll with the community dog gives them purpose, encourages exercise, and increases mobility. Pets help coax people out of their shells, increasing participation in activities.

What about allergies? Dog and cat allergies are significantly less in the elderly population, but there are other concerns. While some residents love animals, others don’t. This can sometimes determine whether or not an individual cottage should welcome a pet.


The most common Cottagewood community pet is a medium-sized dog, often adopted from a shelter, and at wheelchair level for petting—not so small as to be a trip hazard for those using canes or walkers.

There are several cats who call the community home. Garfield, a handsome orange tabby, loves everybody and spends most of his time curled up on laps or next to residents on the couch. Garfield was a past resident’s pet and now belongs to Cottagewood, where he fits in splendidly.

Resident dogs often bond with a particular resident. Trax, a black and white Whippet mix enjoys the company of two ladies in particular—either walking with them or cuddling in between them on the couch.

Angie Bassett, Cottagewood’s activities and volunteer coordinator who oversees the pet care and management, brought her own Black Lab named Cope every day for five years to visit the residents. Since Labs are such a popular breed, the memory care residents often believed they were petting their own dog from the past—which brought many smiles. Angie sadly explained that Cope had passed away and that it’s “tough to find the perfect fit” regarding pets for the residents.

Cottagewood makes a lifelong commitment to their pets. If the animal becomes too old to be comfortable as a community pet, it is retired from service and adopted, often by a staff member who has grown fond of the pet.


Seven years ago, Murphy, a Wirehair Dachshund and “the happiest dog on the planet,” inspired owner Dixie Manthei to share Murphy’s joy with the world as therapy dog, providing comfort and companionship in a variety of settings.

Murphy made training for and passing the challenging 13-step Therapy Dog International (TDI) test look easy “as if he was made for this,” according to Dixie. However, first he took puppy classes, obedience classes and agility training.

Although sweet Murphy has since passed, his legacy lives on. Dixie continues therapy-dog work with two more Wirehair Dachshunds named Shiner and Finnegan.

They are regulars at the Ronald McDonald House, where they spent perhaps their most meaningful visit one Thanksgiving with a family whose father also fell ill while they were seeking treatment for the children. Dixie and her dogs provided calm and peace during the chaos in that family’s life.

Energetic Finnegan is a popular ball player at the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center. Both dogs attend library programs for kids, visit the Boys and Girls Club, and attend to patients at Olmsted Medical Center.

In the OMC BirthCenter, the dogs give weary labor patients something to focus on besides their pain. Dixie said a favorite memory occurred when a patient from a foreign country took pictures of herself with the dogs during labor to send to her mother. Her shocked mother exclaimed, “Look at what those crazy Americans are doing in the hospitals nowadays!”


A nurse herself, Dixie enjoys setting aside time to chat during dog therapy visits—something she might not have enough time for during her regular work day. “Everyone smiles when they see the dogs. It’s so easy to bring someone a half hour of happiness.”

Dixie encourages others to consider pet therapy work (with dogs—but cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, miniature horses and miniature pigs are also welcome).

Visiting the lonely and the sick with a therapy pet is Dixie’s way to spread comfort and happiness. She reiterates that in giving, we receive. “Therapy work is good for me, too.”

Ann M. Noser works as Dr. Ann Anderson, a small animal veterinarian at Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital by day, and a writer (under her married name Ann M. Noser) by night.



•  Therapy Dogs International (TDI),
•  Pet Partners,
•  Therapy Dogs, Inc.,