Puppy Visits Bring JOY to Local Seniors

Senior Services’ Connections Initiative  brings seniors and pets together

By Callie Bridge, Community Liaison

A recent study reported that isolation can be as harmful to people as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day!

Reba Ellis, a Forsyth County resident who receives meals from Senior Services’ Meals-on-Wheels program, isn’t sure about that, but she is certain that loneliness was having a negative effect on her life. A former championship gardener, choir director and — perhaps most importantly — dog owner, Ellis, now living alone, was becoming increasingly isolated as a result of her decreased mobility.

Things changed dramatically for her when she was invited to participate in Senior Services’ Connections pet visitor program almost two years ago. Reba happily accepted the invitation and was matched with volunteer Tabatha Renegar and her Boston terrier Prissy. Since then, the three have practically become family.

Tabatha first began volunteering with Senior Services at the Elizabeth and Tab Williams Adult Day Center, where she took another of her pets, Norman, also a Boston terrier, to visit with center participants, individuals who are living with memory loss. Tabatha found this interaction very rewarding and was thrilled when a Senior Services staffer asked if she would be interested in doing pet visits with a homebound Meals-on-Wheels recipient. After hearing Reba’s story, Tabatha thought it would be an opportunity for her other Boston terrier, Prissy, to get into the volunteer act. “It seemed like the perfect match for Prissy in particular. Norman is a bit more of a clown and a bit more energetic, so he’s perfect at the day center, running around and entertaining folks. But Prissy is a lap lover, so it works really great for her and Reba,” Tabatha said.

Reba, an avid dog lover, clearly adores Prissy and looks forward to their visits. Reba told us, “When she comes in, she comes right around that corner and jumps right up where I am.” Reba and Prissy enjoy having snacks, taking naps and sitting outside together. Reba misses having a dog and would love to own one, but unfortunately she is not able to because of her physical limitations. When asked what she thinks about the pet visit program, she says, “I think it’s a wonderful visit, it’s great — especially if you’re alone. You have someone to talk to, someone to pet — someone to love. It’s very soothing.”

It is also apparent how much Reba and Prissy truly enjoy each other’s company. As Reba has said many times, “When my feet move, she moves!” Reba highly recommends pet visits to other homebound Meals-on-Wheels recipients and says, “To me there’s nothing greater than having a dog to pet and to talk to.”

Tabatha explained that the visits are not beneficial just for Reba, “Many of the times that Prissy is visiting with Reba are times that I’m working or my family is doing something away from the house, so Prissy would be home by herself and Reba would be home by herself — it is the perfect match that they have each other, that they have company.”

Tabatha highly recommends that people who own calm, affectionate pets volunteer with the Connections program at Senior Services. She tells us, “I really don’t think of it as giving now; it’s really just part of our lives. It’s not like you look at the calendar and say ‘Oh, today is the day I have to do this.’ I look at the calendar and say ‘Oh, I hope I have time to take Prissy over to see Reba today!’ And it really just is part of life to visit your family, so it really just feels like that.”

The relationship that Reba, Tabatha and Prissy share is truly heartwarming and inspiring. Their bond has not only reduced Reba’s sense of isolation, it has also provided her with an extended family.

Callie Bridge is a Community Liaison with Senior Services. The Connections program is part of a special Senior Services initiative to engage the community with homebound older adults across Forsyth County. Find out how you can get involved with Connections and make a difference in a homebound senior’s life by visiting the Senior Services website at SeniorServicesInc.org/volunteer.


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