On most Tuesdays, Michelle Dore and "Meca", her 3-year old Golden Retriever and Irish Setter mix, can be found strolling "Main Street" at , stopping to visit with residents and entertain them with tricks. Michelle and "Meca" are a therapy dog team certified by the Delta Society and one of several dedicated volunteer teams that make a connection with the residents.
According to Kristin Sinatra, Director of Marketing at Waveny, the dogs and their handlers build relationships with the residents who look forward to the visits almost like family.
The use of therapy dogs is one of many sensory and memory stimulating programs used at Waveny to enhance the lives of its residents. The dogs provide comfort and companionship along with distraction from pain and isolation frequently associated with infirmity. Dore notes that "Meca's" visits often elicit recollections from residents about pets of their own. Many residents find it soothing to speak to the dogs, oftentimes articulating thoughts and concerns they might otherwise not voice.
Therapy dogs and their handlers become certified through basic training and additional instruction that introduces the dogs to distractions such as wheelchairs, loud noises, and overexcited children. Therapy dogs must be social, polite, calm and cuddly, and obviously be well-groomed and disease free while tolerating being touched and hugged.
Michelle and "Meca" also visit Norwalk Hospital and are working toward a certification that would enable them join a library program that encourages children with reading and speech issues to , a most uncritical audience.