When Michele Fair received her Pomeranian puppy, Mikey, last Thanksgiving, she considered him "an amazing gift from God."
"He was such a gift to me," she said. "He's just so special, I wanted to give something back."
She found a way to give something back through the Love on a Leash, Therapy Pets program that brings pets to senior citizens retirement homes and convalescent centers.
The program was started in 1995 by Rosalie Lansdowne with her dog Trevor, a flat-coated retriever.
She said Trevor's friendly personality inspired her to share him with others.
"He loves people and he loves to be petted," she said.
Members of the program bring their animals to various facilities throughout the week to visit with those who otherwise would not have contact with animals.
"When you see someone sad and lonely who responds with a smile of delight when they see our furry friends, it makes the sacrifice of our time well worthwhile," Lansdowne said.
Every other Saturday, the group visits the Carson Plaza Retirement Center. Although the center allows residents to own pets, some are not able to have them.
"A lot of them have had to give up their pets at this stage in their lives," said Estelle Chase, a manager of the center. "They really do enjoy having these animals come in to visit with them."
Gayle Burchfield, who is permanently connected to an oxygen tank, is a new resident and cannot have a pet because of her condition. That's why she enjoys the visits from Love on a Leash.
"I love it," she said. "It's so lonely without an animal. Animals help so much."
She said the first time the group came, she was bedridden and could not come down to the lobby so someone brought a pet up to her apartment.
This time, she wasn't going to miss the visit.
"I was upstairs in my pajamas when I saw them come in," she said. "I ran quick inside and got dressed so I could see them."
Fair said her Pomeranian dogs, Mikey and Blondie, which she received through Wylie Animal Rescue, weigh about five pounds each and are the perfect size for petting and cuddling.
Mary Stout, a resident of the retirement center, said she likes when Mikey comes to visit.
"He's a good-looking little dog and well-behaved," she said. "He's the kind you can cuddle."
The program is not just limited to dogs, however.
"Our group is open to dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and parrots," Lansdowne said. "All that is required is a good temperament around people and other animals, an outgoing personality and a love of being handled."
Lansdowne said rabbits are especially popular in situations where a person cannot get out of bed.
"Heather, the rabbit, will stay beside them and cuddle as long as they pet her," Lansdowne said. "People really respond to that."
Manager Bob Retchford said the residents' response to the animals shows how effective the program is.
"Everybody's smiling," he said. "When you look around, you can see that everybody's happy."
Trevor, Lansdowne's dog, is registered with Therapy Dogs Inc. and the Delta Society. The two visit five facilities regularly in Carson City and are involved with a summer camp and a summer aquatic therapy program.
Landsdowne is looking for volunteers to bring their pets or to help handle the pets already in the program.
You Can Help:
To volunteer with Love on a Leash, call Rosalie Lansdowne at 883-1635.