CHAPEL HILL, NC – Carolina Meadows, the largest continuing care retirement community in the Triangle, is teaming up with UNC PAWS at The Farm at Penny Lane in Pittsboro to help train a group of adorable pups for eventual lives as service dogs.
A dog-training and shelter-to-pet therapy program for individuals with severe mental illness, PAWS is a Health and Wellness Initiative of the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. At the organization’s Puppy Development Center at The Farm at Penny Lane, and in off-site locations such as Carolina Meadows, staff, clients and community volunteers interact with these rambunctious puppies to provide socialization as the first stage of preparing them to be devoted, docile service dogs.
When it comes to good health, a dose of puppy love often is exactly what the doctor ordered for both the elderly and people with mental illness, according to Thava Mahadevan, director of The Farm at Penny Lane and director of operations for the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. The K9 companions will visit Carolina Meadows Friday, May 15 from 2 to 3 p.m.
“Dogs and puppies can have a huge impact on people’s mental health,” said Mahadevan. “It’s just amazing how people light up when they see a puppy, especially the elderly, who are sometimes lonely. And even those few minutes of being in a little bit of a happier mood changes them physically.”
Mahadevan says studies show that these moments of joy can lower heart and blood pressure rates and also lead to the release of “happy” hormones and mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
“So we thought it was a wonderful partnership to team up with the residents at Carolina Meadows as part of our PAWS training,” Mahadevan said.
Residents agree that this program is a blast, one that results in nonstop wagging tails and big smiles – from people and dogs alike.
“It’s a creative community outreach project which benefits both the puppies and the residents of Carolina Meadows. Everyone loves it and benefits,” Carolina Meadows Board Chair Rosemary Hutchinson said.
But Carolina Meadows residents and clients of The Farm at Penny Lane aren’t the only ones seeing the benefits of puppy love. After playing for 10 weeks, the puppies then are sent to a women’s prison in West Virginia, where inmates formally train them to become service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mahadevan says at the end of that training, the dogs are matched with returning veterans who need an assistance dog to help them heal and work through their PTSD.
“The program is a win-win-win all the way. It touches all kinds of people along the way,” Mahadevan said.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of Carolina Meadows,” Mahadevan added. “The community’s residents have really embraced the program.”
The UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health also provides a variety of other holistic therapy programs for individuals impacted by mental illness at The Farm at Penny Lane, a 40-acre property in northern Chatham County. They include a community garden, greenhouse, apiary and a flock of heritage-breed chickens.