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Interview with PetPals Founder Ellen Kirchheimer

Photo of PetPals Program Director Ellen Kirchheimer
PetPals Program Director Ellen Kirchheimer

You were involved from the beginning, how was Petpals founded?

I was interested in the research in the use of animals as therapeutic intervention since college.   Around 2000, while I was a member of FriendshipWorks’ Program Committee, FriendshipWorks had a grant to do a survey with residents about receiving friendly visits at Boston area nursing homes. The survey found that most did want a friendly visitor, but also, the possibility of pet visitation as well.

In the next few years, I volunteered my time in creating a pilot animal visitation program for FriendshipWorks. We were lucky to have the expertise in place for the training and screening of volunteers, but we also needed expertise in the screening of animals. We were fortunate to find help from Dr. Amy Marder, well-known animal behaviorist at the Animal Rescue League. Dr. Marder helped design the training and screening program we are still using today. Read More

Dog Ambassadors Opening Hearts and Minds

Photo of Petpals Volunteer Susan and her dog Duncan
Petpals Volunteer Susan and her dog Duncan

Eight years ago, Susan Mulski was visiting her elderly parents in New York with her dog, a
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Chester.  After seeing how happy they were interacting with Chester, she decided to look for opportunities to do similar visits with elders closer to home.

Susan found PetPals through an ad in the local paper and has been a dedicated volunteer since 2008, at first with Chester and later with Duncan after Chester passed away.   The team has done group visits at several long-term care facilities in the Boston area and was involved with one memorable one-on-one visitation, as part of PetPals’ pilot individual visiting program.   She found the experiences both enjoyable and rewarding. Read More

Volunteering with Krowka and Jenna Belle

Photo of Laura, Krowka, and Jenna Belle at Cambridge Homes
Laura, Krowka, and Jenna Belle at Cambridge Homes

I have been volunteering since I was a child. It’s a part of me I grew up with, from my faith as a Unitarian Universalist and a Jew. I believe service is a gift that should be shared.

I found out about FriendshipWorks’ PetPals program from an informational pamphlet at Arlington Street Church in 2009. I thought it would be a good idea for my cat, Krowka, who is very good natured and enjoys being held, to be part of the program.  After passing the initial screening, Krowka became the first certified cat visitor for PetPals.

Since 2009, Krowka and I have been visiting residents at The Cambridge Homes.  In 2011, my dog Jenna Belle also joined the visiting team.  We usually meet in the living room of the Homes. The welcoming space offers a comfortable area to have the residents interact with the animals during our visits.

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Tips on Working with Elders with Mild Memory Loss

Viewing Old Photos (2)

Activities that help to evoke memory and improve cognition

  • Use photos of family members and close friends to spark conversations.  You can make a photo book together from the elder’s collection of old and recent photos
  • Help your elder keep a Daily Journal of activities featuring: today’s date; important phone numbers; and the day’s schedule, including appointments, visitors, and activities
  • Engage your elder with some of your elder friend’s favorite activities:  listening or playing music, playing mahjong, or gardening
  • If they are able, participate in walking and dancing activities (improve cognition and mood)
  • Engage in word puzzles, and practice simple everyday math using play money, such as making change in transactions

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A FriendshipWorks Match Story: Stories, Loss, and Friendship


Meredith and Alvin
Meredith and Alvin

When you first meet Alvin, a former playwright and actor, you’ll be impressed with his seemingly boundless energy and gregariousness.   During our interview with Alvin, in the middle of sharing one of his many fascinating stories from his Broadway days in New York, he would hop off his walker seat, stroll into the backroom and bring out photos or flyers related to the story.

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