Some lucky residents at Peconic Landing are now receiving their daily newspapers from a smiling face that’s always happy to see them.
Dean is the life care community’s first facility dog, specially trained to work with a facilitator in group settings.
The dog came to Peconic Landing through Canine Companions for Independence, a national organization that provides service dogs, hearing dogs, facility dogs and skilled companion dogs.
“Dean’s been with us for only a short period of time, but he’s made such a difference in our residents’ lives,” said Gregory Garrett, Peconic Landing’s executive vice president and administrator of health services.
The 2-year-old Lab/golden retriever mix joined the Peconic Landing family in November, after completing intense training. Jennifer Gaffga, director of recreation for Peconic Landing’s health center, is Dean’s primary owner. She brings him to work with her and then takes him home at the end of the day.
“He comes with me every day,” she said. “The residents love him, the staff loves him, the families love him. He just brings everybody calm. As we like to say here, peace, purpose and pleasure — and he gives everybody a little bit of that, every day.”
Dean works primarily in the health center, visiting residents in its four “neighborhoods”: The Shores, The Bluffs, Harbor North and Harbor South.
He is present during group exercises and rehab activities, and is always within arm’s reach of residents so they can pet and interact with him as much or as little as they want.
The effort to bring a facility dog to Peconic Landing began in February, when Ms. Gaffga began CCI’s rigorous application process. Even the dog’s home setting is evaluated and she was required to send pictures of her house and yard.
“They really are thorough,” she said. “I was lucky enough to get my interview in June, and then I got called for the Oct. 23 class.”
She went through two weeks of team training with Dean at CCI’s regional headquarters in Medford. Dean had lived with a puppy raiser in Virginia until he was 18 months old, then went into training for six months. During the team training, 12 to 15 people who had been on CCI’s waiting list learned how to care for their dogs and how to use the 40 commands they had already been taught. Dogs and people are matched based on specific needs, personalities and interactions. The caretaker then has to pass a written test and a skills demonstration.
Cecilia Kraus of Shelter Island Heights, 89, has been working with Dean during a short-term rehab stay at Peconic Landing.
“It’s calming. He’s so gentle,” she said, adding that Dean reminded her of family dogs she’s had throughout the years. “We always had dogs. My husband loved them. To have a dog, it’s a nice friendship. I love seeing Dean.”
“It’s just amazing to watch the joy that he brings,” Ms. Gaffga said. “Their faces light up. I now know not to take it personally when everyone says hello to him and not me.”
When Dean goes home in the evening, his special vest and accessories come off and he switches into pet mode.
“It’s interesting because here, he’s so on target all the time. He’s working,” Ms. Gaffga said. “As soon as the vest comes off, he’s kind of a little bit more laid back, like you would see a regular pet.”
Canine Companions for Independence provides dogs at no cost to a caretakers or facilities. Several CCI dogs visited Peconic Landing before any placement was made to see how they would behave around things like wheelchairs and other alarms they might not have encountered before. Dean was among them — and he was a perfect fit.
“He just fell in love with older individuals and was so patient with them, and we were like ‘Oh my goodness, we need to give them this dog, this is his best place to be,’ ” said CCI participant program manager Jessica Reiss.
She also said facility dogs are becoming much more popular — even in the criminal justice system, where they are used to help people who have experienced trauma.
“I’m sure [Dean] is an asset to the work they’re doing with a population that often gets forgotten,” Ms. Reiss said.
“Animals can bring certain memories and joy to our members, and having Dean here every day creates the connection that’s not just someone visiting every once in a while,” Mr. Garrett said. “Dean has really become part of the family, which is important to our residents. It’s been a huge benefit to have Dean here on a daily basis.”
Dean will remain at Peconic Landing indefinitely to visit residents, lift their spirits and deliver the occasional newspaper.
“The staff, the residents, everybody just loves him,” Ms. Gaffga said. “Everybody’s eyes light up. He just makes everybody’s day.”
Dean proved that during a visit with 90-year-old Peconic Landing resident Lillian Baglivi, formerly of Greenport.
“Look at that tail going,” she said as she scratched behind Dean’s ears. “He’s wonderful. I love having him here. I wish he could be all mine.”
Photo caption: Cecilia Kraus, 89, of Shelter Island Heights pets Dean in her room at Peconic Landing. (Credit: Rachel Siford)