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Canine compassion: A ‘teddy bear’ cheers residents, staff of Suring nursing home

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SURING – COVID-19 visitation restrictions have not been easy for residents in Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities, but a certain teddy bear regularly brings smiles and comfort to residents and patients at The Bay at Suring.

Oliver isn’t a stuffed animal, but a four-legged caregiver who dispenses joy and a few licks around the facility.

“It’s all about the unconditional love from him,” said owner Tracy Prochnow. “Oliver makes them happy and brightens their day. He’s a different face, it breaks up the routine, and they look forward to see him when he comes through the front door.”

The 2-year-old Shih Tzu/Bichon dog mix is one of a few breeds known as a “teddy bear.”

Prochnow, a medication technician who’s worked at The Bay at Suring for more than 15 years, received permission to bring Oliver to work since he was a puppy so she could potty train him.

What started out as workplace flexibility resulted in Oliver becoming a part of the family at the care facility.

“Oliver knows the machinery that I work with, he knows when to get out of the way and doesn’t get scared by some of the sounds that my equipment makes,” Prochnow said.

Like all nursing homes, The Bay at Suring is following federal protocols and state and local guidelines to protect residents and staff from COVID-19 that have significantly curtailed the ability for people to visit family members in-person.

In their place are window visits and video conferencing arranged by staff, but Oliver has remained a constant, padding throughout the facility on his own.

In the two years of calling The Bay at Suring her home, Nancy Andrade has watched Oliver grow up from a puppy.

She has become known the “Treat Lady,” where Oliver knows he can find his fix of bacon-wrapped, sweet potato-flavored dog treats.

“Oliver is just cheerful, he such a nice little guy.  I love him and he loves everybody,” said Andrade. “I love animals and I had a dog when I lived at home.”

Some of the other approximately 50 residents have upped their snack offerings as a way to entice Oliver to visit, managers noted.

Prochnow said even the staff members are excited when she brings Oliver to work.

“He is just the sweetest dog in the world,” said Jenny Lemke, who works as the unit clerk in the facility. “He always puts a smile on my face. Our residents are always excited as soon as he walks in the room. He puts his little paws up on the bed. Oliver just gives them a sense of normalcy and he makes their day.”

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