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For many skilled nursing providers, it’s a common story: A resident moves into the facility, leaving behind his or her animals.

What’s unusual in the case of Vida Mae Lewis is the response of the Altercare nursing facility in Adena, OH.

Lewis arrived there in May, and Lewis’s son determined that, one, his mom wasn’t going to be able to live independently again, and, two, her cats needed to live somewhere safe. I can empathize: When I lived in Baltimore, a neighbor died and his widow went into a nursing home in a short timespan. A few of us would go over to feed the cats. It became clear the cats needed new owners, which proved to be challenging.

Luckily, in Adena there’s the Belmont County Humane Society’s Safe Haven, a no-kill option, which agreed to take Vida Mae’s Katie Lynn and Benji. Still, Lewis was “absolutely devastated” about losing them, said Denise R. Rawson, Adena’s Social Services coordinator. Lewis would often talk about her cats.

Lewis visits with Benji and Katie Lynn

When Rawson contacted the shelter, Belmont County Humane Society’s Safe Haven Humane Society Director Angela Hatfield agreed to come in and bring the cats for a visit.

The video shows how Lewis wept when she arrived to see her felines. To the cats’ credit, it appears likely they remembered Lewis, with Benji even flopping on his back for a belly scratch. Since then, she’s been talking to all the other residents and staff about how beautiful they were.

“She misses them so much,” Rawson said. “The Belmont County said they’d bring the cats back anytime.”

Part of the reason I wanted to highlight Altercare Adena’s good work is, as the end of 2018 approaches, I’ve reached my limit on intake of sad news. (I’m looking at you, public relations people pitching me how depressed seniors are around the holidays and providers who are wrapping up their year with fraud schemes.)

But Katie Lynn and Benji’s visit to Lewis isn’t just a feel-good story. It’s a reminder of how happy senior living providers can make their residents with some can-do spirit.

“It took some coordination, but it was fairly easy to arrange,” said Executive Director Jennifer George. Her advice for providers working on similar animal visits is to talk to administration about what is possible.

“We have just had people comment that it was really nice and that we could have that surprise get-together,” she said.

Finally, Altercare Adena should be commended for embracing positive news coverage. As we’ve discussed, nursing homes often are afraid to seek out local news outlets, especially when television cameras are involved. But there’s nothing that can help a nursing home’s local reputation like a story showing how staff went the extra mile. Bonus points if there are adorable fuzzy beasts involved.

And if you can have the story come out at Christmas? Then you receive a what I’m going to call the McKnight’s “Fur Sure!” Award.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.

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