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Therapy dogs comfort seniors

Staff writer

Zoey Amor is a 12-year-old Shih Tzu that Sue Peterson of Marion County Lake has owned since she was 4 weeks old.

“She’s a very gentle, loving dog,” Peterson said. “I consider her my child.”

Zoey is a formally trained therapy dog. Sue was the director of the Office of Professional Services at Emporia State University when she got the dog.

“I taught her two pages of commands and took her for socialization training,” she said.

She received permission to take the dog anywhere on campus, and Zoey often roamed the counseling center.

“She was really good with children,” Sue said.

Teachers in the elementary education department often got relief from the stress of their jobs by spending time with Zoey at the end of the day.

Sue married Willis Peterson in July 2004 after they moved from his farm at Lincolnville to Marion County Lake. She retired in December 2011. Zoey was a constant companion to Willis.

Willis spent four months at Comfort Care Homes in Newton before his death in July. Comfort Care serves people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Peterson took Zoey there two or three times a week, and Willis was happy to see her. The dog would sit in residents’ laps or on their beds, and some residents would take walks with her.

Peterson still takes her there for occasional visits, but she helped the facility acquire another dog. Willis’s memorial fund was used to raise money for the dog. The miniature Schnauzer pup was purchased from Harry Hart of Herington. They named him Willis Irvin, in honor of Sue’s husband.

Sue trained him for three months and turned him over to Comfort Care.

According to Sharon Erwin, director of Comfort Care Homes, there were many benefits to having a therapy dog.

It can improve moods, decrease erratic behavior in dementia, increase nutrition, increase physical activity, and promote social interaction, she said.

Willis Irvin isn’t the first dog Sue has trained. Shortly after she met Willis and lived with him on the farm, his dog, Pepper, unexpectedly had puppies. She said two were trainable.

She named one Raven. Sue took the dog to a person in Mulvane who showed people how to train dogs.

After Raven was trained, she went to a girl in Newton who had frequent seizures. Raven learned to bark when she sensed the girl was about to have a seizure.

“The girl could sleep in her own bedroom again,” Sue said.

Sue has another dog, Pia, a teacup Yorkshire terrier, whose owner was her best friend and died of COVID. She has owned Pia for two years. She takes Pia to Comfort Homes twice a week.

A third dog, Susie, an 8-year-old Maltese, was rescued off the streets of Newton. The dog has allergies and isn’t very sociable, so taking care of her is an act of love on Sue’s part.

Last modified Jan. 20, 2022

 

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