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Animal lovers know the positive effects that come with sharing time with a cute critter, and lately science has been catching on to the same idea. So, it’s only natural that Summit Place Assisted Living would include some furry friends in their plans to make their community a happy and healthy home.

“We have three different kinds of animal therapy,” says Life Enrichment Coordinator Fred Kamperman. “In-house, we have two chihuahuas that we bring in every day. The Humane Society comes in twice a month with different animals — rabbits, guinea pigs, that type of thing.” Horses are even brought to the community.

Science is proving what animal lovers already knew: that animals can work wonders on the health of the people they encounter. Photo courtesy Summit Place

When you think of horses, it might be tempting to picture cowboys charging through the hallways at full speed, but the truth is a little tamer than that. “Some friends of ours have their own personal horses, and they bring them in, especially at Christmas time,” Kamperman says. “It was really wonderful, especially during COVID, because the horses would go from window to window and stick their heads in. They’re all gussied up, and the residents just loved it.”

The two chihuahuas are brought in by Kamperman and his husband, Executive Director Jozef Bozman. “Little Ernie is a Min-Pin Chihuahua mix, and Butters is a Basenji Chihuahua mix. When they come in, they have their jobs. They go into all the rooms and say hello to everybody. They do like particular residents, probably because of the bacon they get fed,” he says with a laugh.

Aside from hunting down treats, the pooches are a great antidote if a resident is feeling down.

Not only do animals help humans, but interacting with people also helps young critters to grow up socialized. Photo courtesy Summit Place

Kamperman tells the story of a resident who recently had a stroke. “Ernie and Butters come in and play around on her bed, and it definitely changes her whole perspective and gets her out of for head,” he says. “We’re seeing her progressing back to her normal self, and the dogs definitely helped. Just a half hour to an hour with the dogs, and they give her a break from her stress.”

He has also seen them work wonders on another resident’s anxiety. “Of course, we have medication for her, but the thing that really calms her down is our little Ernie,” Kamperman says. “He curls up and sleeps on her lap, and she just rubs that little dog. He literally brings her blood pressure down. It’s just a different kind of medication for her, and that to me is the amazing power of a pet.”

Partnering with Whatcom Humane Society came naturally for Kamperman and Bozman, as well as Andi Clay, an owner of the community. “When Joseph and I got married, we asked people to make a donation to the Humane Society. And the same with Andi — she’s a big supporter, and we met her through the Humane Society,” Kamperman says. “They have a pet therapy program, where they bring different animals out for the benefit of our residents. Bringing them in just seemed like a natural extension of that support.”

Lauren Bouschey, who recently began working in humane education for the Whatcom Humane Society has already started enjoying the trips to Summit Place. “We got to visit yesterday and meet with some of the residents,” she says. “It was overwhelmingly positive, a really nice exchange.”

Lauren Bouschey does outreach for the Whatcom Humane Society, including bringing cute and fuzzy crit-ters to Summit Place. Photo courtesy Lauren Bouschey

If it seems strange to think of these visits as an exchange, it’s important to remember that there is a benefit to the animals, as well.

“It seems like human therapy, primarily, but actually it helps our animals socialize and get out of the shelter for a little while,” says Bouschey. “Face-to-face time with the community helps them with their adoptability, with their rapport with humans, so that when they get the chance to go to their forever home they aren’t just coming right out of the shelter.”

And animal outreach isn’t the only service the Whatcom Humane Society offers. “We have an animal food bank if you need assistance feeding your companion animal, as well as low- to no-cost spay and neutering and medical care for animals,” Bouschey says.

Butters enjoys a well-earned rest in the middle of another long day at the office. Photo courtesy Summit Place

With all of the services they offer, the society is always happy to hear from supporters. “As a non-profit, donations are our foundation. And volunteering is another form of donation that’s priceless — that’s the biggest donation I think people can make.”

In the end, Kamperman is grateful to see that having animals around can help make us even more human.

“It really is nice to see a different side to a person,” he says. “Maybe you didn’t know they had this whole previous life of taking care of pets. You hear a lot of great stories — and some sad stories, too. You get to see into residents’ lives in a way that you normally wouldn’t see at all.”

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