Animals, owners gather at meeting

A FETE FOR THE PET SET

March 21, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

He may have four legs and a nasty reputation, but Bialy, a white Persian cat, brings a lot of joy to the people at Lorien Nursing and Convalescent Home in Columbia.

Bialy and his owner, Rosalie Swiderski, 70, frequently visit cat lovers at the nursing home.

"He likes people and lets them pet and hold him," said the Pets-On-Wheels volunteer.

She said she and Bialy began visiting the nursing home on Cedar Lane two years ago to do something for someone else.

"I do it to see how they react, and to see the pleasure this cat gives them," she said.

Yesterday, Mrs. Swiderski joined about 100 Pets-On-Wheels volunteers from across the state at an annual meeting at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia.

The meeting provided an opportunity for volunteers to meet, receive tips on proper pet nutrition and learn how to reminisce with elderly nursing home residents.

It also gave some pets an opportunity to strut their stuff in a brief pet fashion show.

Dr. Monique Maniet, a veterinarian from Takoma Park, told the pet owners to avoid commercial pet foods filled with preservatives. That will keep their pets healthy and strong so they won't miss their visits, she said.

Natural pet foods and a homemade diet, complete with fruits and vegetables, are alternatives to the conventional pet foods, she said.

A poor diet can lead to cancer, skin diseases, arthritis and other diseases, she said.

"The best will be a homemade diet," Dr. Maniet said.

Another guest speaker, Dr. Regena G. Stevens-Ratchford, aassistant professor of occupational therapy at Towson State University, encouraged volunteers to reminisce with the elderly by getting them to share their life's experiences.

"I see them [the elderly] as a distinguished faculty coming to us . . . in the 'university of life,' " she said.

Reminiscing is a natural part of life and it helps the elderly feevalidated and important, she said.

Glenn Roe, 46, of Anne Arundel County agreed.

In 1986, his parents died, so he "didn't have that link to people that age anymore."

In 1991, he started taking his mixed-breed, Daisy, and poodle, Jasper, on weekly visits to the Crofton Convalescence Center. Jasper sits beside wheelchairs so residents can touch him.

"I think it fills a void in my life," Mr. Roe said of the program. "I've gotten to meet a lot of people my parents' age, and we do a lot of reminiscing."

The elderly just want a chance to share their stories with anyone who will listen, he said.

In 1982, Pets-On-Wheels was established in Baltimore to provide social contact for nursing home residents who suffer from dementia or other diseases and are sometimes forgotten by families and friends.

Each year, more than 800 volunteers and their pets make about 24,000 visits to some 250 Maryland nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions, organizers said. And there's always a need for more volunteers.

The program started in Howard County in 1983. Lucille Barnum, the county's Pets-On-Wheels coordinator, said the touch of an animal can make all the difference for a sick or blind person.

Touching is something Karen Folk and her 65-pound mixed shepherd, Lucky, do every Saturday afternoon at Glen Meadows Nursing Home in Baltimore County.

Residents enjoy both visitors, and one thrilled woman always "tells people there that Lucky comes to visit her every Saturday," Ms. Folk said.

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