If it is true that tragedy should be used as a source of strength, then Benton House of Port Orange residents and employees can say they used Covid-19 to not only find strength, but comfort and love in Christi, a Covid-sniffing dog.
It is well documented how senior living facilities have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic. Benton House took many steps to secure the safety of its employees and residents.
Jennifer Brewer, Benton House executive director, said with the help of the state they instituted rapid testing for employees and residents. Like other senior facilities across the country, they endured lockdowns. Unlike many other senior living facilities, they got themselves a dog. A Covid-sniffing dog, who is trained similar to a drug-sniffing dog.
The idea initially came to the CEO of Benton House, Mike Allard, from a tweeted story about Covid-sniffing dogs used at international airports. Soon Ms. Brewer was on her way to Canine Assistants, a non-profit in Alpharetta, Ga., to train with Christie.
It was there Ms. Brewer learned how to instruct Christi in detecting Covid. They flew back to Florida together where Christi first was allowed to get acclimated at Ms. Brewer’s home. She got time to enjoy a big backyard with plenty of room to run around in and get comfortable with her new family before easing into her second home, Benton House.
The pure bred golden retriever went to work the last week of June. Almost immediately her job was in jeopardy. As the virus was waning, so was the need for a Covid-sniffing canine.
But she had another occupation.
Christi was originally a therapy dog. Her amiable personality and quiet way of getting you to pet her was loved by residents and employees alike. That love has only increased in her new role as a therapy dog.
“She’s pretty sweet,” Ms. Brewer said. “She's special to us, she’s become part of our family, that's for sure. I don't know what we did without her before.”
Her purpose now is to bring joy and emotional support to the residents.
Talking with some of the residents makes it clear Christi is good at this.
“I love having her here. I had a dog, and you get to love them like family. So, it’s nice that I can pet her. I love her already,” resident Joan Jones said.
Another resident, Carl Winterwerp, said, “I like (having) the dog here. I think it is a great idea.”
Christie can sense when a resident is not happy and will come up to that person to try and make them feel better. When not comforting the Benton House residents, she has her favorite things to do, such as splashing in the creek that runs through the Brewers' backyard or chewing on her crunchy toy.