Lulu might just be the luckiest dog in Texas. Once a stray, this seven-year-old Jack Russell Terrier is living the good life at Brookdale The Heights, a senior living community in Houston. She gets belly rubs, back scratches and lots of love from residents and associates. She has her pick of sleeping spots, which range from the sun soaked deck to a fluffy bed inside a quiet office, though she often curls up under a resident’s TV. Lulu has become a fixture at the community, where she’s more than a pet. Lulu serves a purpose.
“She’s very therapeutic for the residents,” said Keonna McKinney, manager of the community’s Clare Bridge, which provides care to people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “They love to see her. It’s almost like she’s had some training as far as being a therapy dog. If a resident is not engaging with us I can walk Lulu over and she will turn to the side and allow them to pet her, or she’ll just lean against them and that weight is comforting.”
Lulu’s luck started when Marie Mahoney, a former resident of Brookdale The Heights, found her roaming a golf course and decided to adopt her. Mahoney, was a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was immortalized in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. She took Lulu on several trips where she and other baseball players were honored. Nick-named Red, because of her red hair, Mahoney was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. She threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Houston Astro’s game in September 2014.
After Mahoney’s death in 2016, her family decided it was best if Lulu stayed at the senior living community, realizing the connections she’d made with residents and staff were strong and meaningful. McKinney said Lulu is very popular at the community. A group of ladies who spend afternoons sitting in rocking chairs routinely call Lulu to come over for a visit. Residents sign up to take Lulu for walks, sometimes around the community and sometimes just up and down the hall.
“She’s a part of our program. We actually have a planned activity, walking with Lulu,” McKinney said. “She usually walks at a slow pace. The residents love taking her for a walk. It gives them a sense of purpose. From what the residents have told me, Lulu fills a void for them of not having a pet.”
Despite living with dementia, some Clare Bridge residents are able to recall memories of past pets when Lulu is nearby. Lulu often joins residents during daily fitness programs, jumping up and down or chasing a ball, which McKinney says encourages the residents to participate in the activity. When the residents are sitting in lounge areas, playing games, reading or chatting, Lulu is right there with them. She can be protective of the residents, barking when someone knocks on the front door, but when Lulu hears thunder she turns to the residents for protection, often hiding under their chairs or beds. Lulu energizes the community, including the caretakers.
“One associate said she wants a dog for Christmas because of Lulu,” McKinney said. “A lot of staff look out for her. We’re very, very happy to have her here.”