Therapy horse brings joy to residents at Golden Living Center

Stephanie Silverstein

The Golden Living nursing home residents were all smiles when Maggie came for a visit Aug. 29. The 3-year-old miniature horse greeted residents and welcomed their hugs and kisses.

“My father always promised us we’d have a pony of our own, but we never did,” said Golden Living resident Mary Ellen Thompson, who said Maggie’s visit takes her back to her childhood.

As a child in Gloucester, Thompson recalls a man with a pony who would come to her neighborhood and offer rides for 50 cents. “I never got to ride because I never had the 50 cents,” Thompson said. “We could pet him and everything, but we couldn’t ride him because 50 cents was beyond our means.”

Maggie’s handler, Nancy LeBaron-Kiley, gave each resident the chance to pet and hug Maggie. LeBaron-Kiley showed the residents some of Maggie’s tricks, such as turning around without moving one of her hind feet, and walking backward.

“That was beyond great,” said Danielle Osier, activities assistant at Golden Living. “They just loved it.”

Osier said children and animals visiting Golden Living are always a huge hit with the residents.

“I think they have this impression of a big animal that’s very intimidating, and Maggie comes in and she’s cute and she’s little and she kisses them,” LeBaron-Kiley said. She does not charge for the visit. “My only fee is smiles, and Maggie always seems to get them,” she said.

Anne Springer, public relations director at SeniorCare, Inc., said the residents enjoy having an out-of-the-ordinary visitor such as Maggie.

“A lot of them probably had animals when they were younger. I think people who were attached to animals all their lives probably miss it,” Springer said.

Springer is the director of SeniorCare’s Pawsitive Connections program, which aims to provide information, referral, and advocacy for seniors who are struggling to live independently in the community and have issues with their pets.

Pawsitive Connections is organizing a dog therapy team to visit Golden Living residents on a regular basis. Anyone with a registered therapy dog who is interested in making visits to Golden Living can call Springer at 978-281-1750, ext. 313.