La Mesa Pet Therapy works wonders

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WEBMillie Kennedy and Tasha, an Australian Shepherd, are in the La Mesa Pet Therapy Program..jpg

Since 1993, La Mesa Pet Therapy has been delivering warm fuzzy feelings for people as well as pets. More than 100 dogs and four cats have been approved for the life-changing assignment of visiting people in homes and hospitals around the county.

Lu Zemlick, coordinator of the program, said that a happy, responsive attitude in the senior population is as rewarding for the volunteer as it is for the patient.

Since 1993, La Mesa Pet Therapy has been delivering warm fuzzy feelings for people as well as pets. More than 100 dogs and four cats have been approved for the life-changing assignment of visiting people in homes and hospitals around the county.

Lu Zemlick, coordinator of the program, said that a happy, responsive attitude in the senior population is as rewarding for the volunteer as it is for the patient.

“I have received very positive feedback from the Activity Directors at the 10 Assisted Living Facilities that we visit. The days and times visits are requested have increased over the years,” Zemlick said.  

Millie Kennedy has first-hand experience with her own dog Tasha, an Australian cattle dog. Together they make regular visits to the Waterford Terrace and Oakdale communities in La Mesa. 

“It is amazing to see how excited Tasha gets when we are getting ready to take her to ‘work,’” said Kennedy.

Tasha was a rescue dog that Kennedy had met in 2008 when her previous owner died and she was going to be sent to the shelter. Kennedy decided to adopt her.

“But she had no manners and was very afraid of humans, especially men, and terrified to get into a car! With perseverance and love, Tasha became a new dog,” Kennedy said. 

When Kennedy found out that dogs like Tasha were needed to love up people in nursing homes, she decided to take Tasha in. 

Both Kennedy and Tasha fell in love with the people they met. Tasha loves everyone she meets. In turn, the different outfits she wears with each visit delight the people. 

“It is nice that most senior citizens can play with and pet Tasha. It helps them to remember those days when they had a dog and they share stories about their past pets,” Kennedy said.

But there was a time when Tasha had to step out of the program for a while due to tears in her ligaments. It was difficult for both of them

“She became depressed. Her breed needs to have a job, yet she had lost hers,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy lauded Spring Valley Veterinary Clinic and AMC in El Cajon, both of which helped Tasha get surgeries on both of her knees. 

“Tasha knows what it is like not being able to walk and to have to rely on a stroller. Many senior citizens see Tasha as a dog that has so much will to live,” Kennedy said.

Though Kennedy has two jobs and is going to school to become a Registered Veterinarian Technician, she and Tasha manage to visit Oakdale and Waterford Terrace each month. 

Nancy Tschopp, a Waterford Terrace resident, looks forward to when Tasha visits. “We love Tasha and Tasha loves all of us,” she said.  

The moment that most affected Kennedy at Waterford Terrace involved a US Navy Veteran named Dick, who was always overjoyed to see Tasha. In one of Kennedy and Tasha’s visits, Dick was very ill. He was connected to breathing support, not doing well, Kennedy said, but when he saw Tasha, his eyes were shining and his countenance changed. 

“We spent a good time with him and we promised him that we would be visiting him again. Unfortunately, the next time we were there, he had passed away. We know that Tasha made his day and he was so happy to see her and still remember when he gave her a kiss, saying, ‘See you next time, my girl,’” Kennedy said.

For more information about how to become involved with La Mesa Pet Therapy, call Lu Zemlick, La Mesa Pet Therapy Coordinator, at 619-444-5071, or email Pet_Therapy@cox.net.

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