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Puppy therapy could help residents of nursing homes, says Marine veteran

Marine veteran Tim Hill wants to help the pet population and elderly residents of nursing homes at the same time by bringing shelter pets for therapy sessions.

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. — It's a program to help the community, enrich the lives of seniors and promote a sense of duty.

The state of Florida has the 2nd highest percentage of senior citizens in the country. A Marine veteran wants to bring a new twist to therapy for select seniors.

This isn't your typical therapy session. Tim Hill was looking for something beyond typical for residents of Isle Health and Rehab Center in Fleming Island.

"With COVID lockdowns and isolation, not being able to see family members and loved ones I had to figure out a way to motivate people to get them up and out of their rooms," said Hill, a Marine veteran and current Director of Activities at Isle Health and Rehab.

"And that's where I thought about Paws for Seniors, which is bringing in puppies and kittens to help motivate them and give them a purpose."

Paws for Seniors is more than just a chance for the elderly to interact with pets. Hill partnered with Clay County Animal Services to help residents of Isle Health and Rehab foster shelter animals. 

He noticed a positive change with the residents.

"Happiness, obviously," said Hill. "But I would say just a drive, determination and a sense of purpose."

Holding kittens and playing with puppies goes far beyond endless games of bingo.

"I'm sure it [bingo] could be fun to some people," said Hill. "But to actually do something they feel is meaningful, to give back to the community by helping these stray animals find homes, it really gives people a reason to get moving."

Hill and Paws for Seniors have fostered seven total animals so far. In fact, one of the current patients at Isle Health and Rehab has decided to adopt one of the puppies. Bonnie Theroux is recovering from a broken hip and filled out paperwork to take one of the puppies currently being fostered home with her when she gets discharged.

A forever home for an animal in need and a new take on therapy for residents.

"Just seeing smiles on people's faces when you hold them and touch them," said Theroux, "to get a break from things they're concerned about with their own health, it's just awesome."

Hill hopes the tail wagging is contagious and hopes to expand Paws for Seniors to other facilities across Northeast Florida.

In an effort to expand Paws for Seniors, Tim Hill has started a GoFundMe page. 

More information about that can be found here.

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