Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Labrador retriever brings comfort to seniors

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Annie Ledoux enjoys a brief respite with Harley, who has taken up residency at Sunrise Senior Living in Rockville.
A new resident has moved in to Sunrise Senior Living in Rockville, and many would say he has already become a valuable addition to the family.

Harley, a 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, can often be seen dozing off in front of the reception desk or mingling with residents and staff of the senior living facility, which is tucked into a nook near St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Rockville Pike.

‘‘He allows us to give him unconditional love, which is great for these seniors,” said Barbara Duncan, community relations manager for Sunrise Senior Living, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Duncan had been looking for an older, friendly dog to add to the Sunrise family.

‘‘At Sunrise, we feel very, very strongly that animals be a part of our communities,” she said, adding that they help create a more home-like atmosphere.

She said she and staff members were looking for a pet to replace the home’s previous dog, Annie, who had been euthanized in 2005.

Working through Teresa Black at Critter’s Groom and Board in Rockville, Duncan met Chris Biscardi, president of Knine Rescue, a nonprofit animal rescue organization based in Germantown, and Donna Hartzell, a volunteer with the same organization.

Hartzell had given Harley a foster home earlier this summer after learning that he needed a place to live.

‘‘He was truly loved by his previous owner, [but] he just couldn’t take care of Harley anymore,” Hartzell said.

The man, she said, had fallen on hard times and he and Harley were ‘‘basically homeless,” living in a car or in the shop where the man worked.

When she and Biscardi learned that Sunrise was looking for a new companion for residents and staff, they agreed that Harley sounded like the perfect fit.

‘‘Harley was the dog that clicked with residents,” Duncan said, adding that they had already given four dogs a try before Harley entered their lives. They had also looked at several more via the Internet.

Hartzell said when she took Harley to Sunrise Senior Living, there seemed to be an instant connection.

‘‘They just fell in love with him and it was destiny,” she said.

Harley moved into Sunrise in the beginning of August, Duncan said.

Gary Yonemura, an 83-year-old Sunrise resident, smiled as Harley brushed his legs. Although he used to own and train German shepherds, he said he still has a soft spot for dogs like Harley.

‘‘I associate retrievers with being pretty friendly,” Yonemura said. ‘‘He’s a nice dog.”

As Harley trotted over and lay down at her feet, Tauna Woolery, move-in coordinator for Sunrise, said the Labrador retriever has plenty of energy and love to go around.

‘‘Harley is an excellent addition to the Sunrise family,” she said, patting the dog’s shaggy back. ‘‘He kind of brightens up the day for us employees and residents.”

‘‘He’s an older dog, but he plays just like a puppy,” Woolery added.

‘‘His tale is always wagging,” Duncan said.

She said that residents generally feel comfortable around Harley because they can interact with him and he will not judge them.

‘‘He pretty much loves everyone,” Woolery said, turning her attention to Harley and adopting a silly voice. ‘‘He doesn’t judge at all, do you, buddy?”

Sunrise resident Vivian Thiel waved Harley over to her as the dog galloped down the stairs a few minutes later.

‘‘I’ve loved dogs all my life,” she said, stroking Harley’s coat. ‘‘Everybody likes him. I do, I love him.”