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Dog spreads holiday cheer in Lena

LENA (AP) — Sitting in her wheelchair Dec. 13 at the Lena Living Center, resident Margaret Hartman reached out to her buddy Hunter, unwrapped a cookie she was saving for herself and gave it to the golden retriever.

"I was saving the cookie for myself, but Hunter likes it. But the bag of Fritos are mine," Hartman said with a smile. "I used to have a dog, and I miss him, so when Hunter comes my way, he gives me a lift."

Hunter is a 6-year-old therapy dog who comes to work with his owner, Shannon Hauser, a clinical nurse consultant at the center. Hauser, who used to be the director of nursing, said she began bringing her dog to work two years ago. Since then, if she happens to leave Hunter at home, she must face the ire of the residents looking for the beloved golden retriever.

"If I come to work without him, I often get told to go back home and get Hunter," said Hauser. "What I have found is he not only helps relieve the stress of many of our residents, but he adds a smile to their faces, which makes me smile."

From time to time, Hauser said, people bring in smaller dogs to visit family members in the center. She used to listen to stories told by the residents who missed having a pet.

Hauser said the therapy dog helps with the residents who don't have family to visit. He is free to roam the halls but will often check to make sure Hauser is still in her office. He will leave again to check on the residents, said Hauser, and can often be found sitting next to a bench, looking for extra attention.

"All I have to say is, 'do you want to go to work?' His ears perk up, and he just sits by the garage door to make sure I don't leave without him," said Hauser.

Hunter knows which residents like him and which don't, she said. Resident David Schlafer said he can spend hours petting the dog.

"He is my companion," Schlafer said about Hunter. "He just brightens my day, but he does wear out my arm."

Hunter is not just for the residents. Staff members greet the canine as he stops at the nursing station. April Crow, a registered nurse, said having Hunter at the care facility adds extra love.

"All you have to do around here is bring in a baby or a dog and the residents light up," Crow said. "But even I look forward to the comfort I get from Hunter. If I am having a bad day, Hunter just seems to know that I need him, and the next thing I know, he is leaning up against me. Some days I just want to steal him."

"And this time of year, Hunter just knows how to deliver that extra holiday cheer," Hauser said.

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