BOONE — An adoption event was held at the Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living Community on May 11, allowing each resident to choose a stuffed animal to keep.

The event was organized by The Watauga Dementia Project as part of the local group’s efforts to distribute stuffed and robotic animals to dementia patients around the community. There were more than 60 plush animals up for grabs, including a variety of cats, horses, cows, hens, lambs and more than 20 dog breeds.

While the group's efforts are mainly focused on serving those with dementia, the event was open to all 60 residents at the facility.

“We figured that everyone could enjoy the event and the comfort of a stuffed animal, especially after the feelings of isolation imposed by the COVID-19 restrictions,” said project coordinator Tyler Mancini.

Each resident could choose and name their animal, received a polaroid picture and signed an “Adoption Form” agreeing to love and care for their new friend. Local guitarist Andy Page sat in to perform some jazz tunes, even playing an impromptu duet with a harmonica-wielding resident.

“The event was so heartwarming for everyone involved including staff and residents," said social director Lorie Fidler. "Every single resident chose an animal that was so unique to them and their personalities. It is amazing to think that something so simple as a stuffed animal would be so comforting and bring so much joy to each and every one. The residents have not let go of their new pets and enjoy telling staff and other residents all about their special friend.”

The Watauga Dementia Project is a local group sponsored by The Friends of the Western Branch Watauga Library, that group founder Sandra Basil said “has been fortunate to receive grants and donations to create awareness and support for families affected by Dementia.” 

Along with hosting more fun events at other facilities and distributing robotic therapy pets to in-home patients, the group is working to spread awareness about the disease and offer educational materials, support groups and other resources to patients and caretakers in the community.

Pam McElreath is a founder of the group and member of the National Alzheimer’s Early Onset Advisory Board.

“You are given little hope when you receive a diagnosis for dementia but if we can talk, share ideas and create support in our community, the sooner we will start seeing HOPE for this disease," McElreath said. "This event was full of hope. I saw hope in the smiles, the hugs, and the sweet names the residents gave to their new animal friends. I couldn’t have hoped for more.”

More information about the group’s continued efforts can be found at www.facebook.com/WDP.NC

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