A black Labrador retriever pads around the halls of Heritage Place in Soldotna, entertaining the residents with a wagging tail and big brown eyes. Residents reach down from their wheelchairs and walkers to pet her head fondly, and two parakeets squawk from a cage in the hallway.
When the opportunity arose to make gifts to donate to the Soldotna Animal Shelter, many of the seniors jumped in, hand-stitching blankets and toys stuffed with catnip.
“We knew that the animal shelter needed help, but we already have dogs, so we couldn’t take in any more,” said Audrey Wahback, the activities coordinator at Heritage Place. “So we started thinking of what else we can do.”
Since taking the position in September, Wahback said she has been building a relationship with the animal shelter. She said to her knowledge the residents have not had an ongoing project related to helping animals.
“These residents have always been a part of their communities,” Wahback said. “They’re here now, but they continue to reach out. It continues that sense of purpose.”
With donated fabric, the seniors began to construct small pads for the bottoms of kennels, toys filled with catnip and home-baked biscuits for the dogs. Some were better at sewing and cutting, but many of the residents helped in small ways, even by helping pick out fabrics, Wahback said.
Fern Elam, the oldest living resident in Heritage Place at 105, said she began sewing when her mother taught her to sew doll clothes as a child. She said it is fairly simple but can be fun as well as useful.
“The animals need shelter and warmth, and these will help keep them warm,” Elam said.
The residents gathered in a central area of the nursing home Friday to present the basket to Amanda Alaniz, the animal control assistant for Soldotna.
Alaniz gave a short presentation about what the animal control department does and thanked the residents for their gift.
“These are perfect,” she said, holding up one of the blankets. “They fit really well in the kennels, and they’re not too puffy.”
Wahback said volunteering can help residents stay mentally sharp and relieve stress, which can build up in a confined environment.
“It reduces the risk of health problems and improves longevity,” Wahback said. “And it also helps them stay connected to the community. The residents are really close members of their communities, and this helps them still do that.”