MESA, AZ — Residents at Oakwood Creative Care in Mesa, a nonprofit day center for people with cognitive disabilities, such as Alzheimer's, Dementia, and Parkinson's disease, were greeted by a sweet and friendly visitor on Wednesday.
Meet Miss Dolly Star, a miniature therapy cow.
She walked out of the truck and down a ramp to meet her guests at Oakwood Creative Care. Now, Miss Dolly Star is smaller than a regular cow and bigger than a large dog (and three times the weight).
But, like a dog, she's sweet as can be and easily lured by her favorite snack, marshmallows.
Oakwood brought Miss Dolly Star to their facility to brighten its residents' spirits and give them a bit of fun that day.
“They need engagement not to be pushed off and kept safe,” said Carol Lawless, Oakland's director of community engagement.
“They need to have joy and love and friendship, especially as they face these diseases,” she said. Her job is to make sure the members now facing uncertain futures find joy, love, and friendship through the unique experiences she works to provide.
Randy Prentiss is a Vietnam veteran and member of Oakwood.
“I came here, and everything changed because I have friends. I try to remember their names, but they don't mind if I forget,” he said.
It's also a place where Randy and others are given the opportunity to focus on building connections and making friends with those who know what it's like, a brief break from the realities of the diseases they're navigating.
“It’s important to know that other people care and that they know I’m going through the same thing they are,” said another member.
Karin Boyle started the Dolly Star Foundation after her father ended up in a memory care facility following heart surgery. She said her dad, a longtime
farmer, seemed to respond in a positive way to his cattle.
“We go out almost every weekend to a facility, if not two," said Boy said. "She (Dolly) is requested all over the place.”
Dolly visits children's hospitals, memory care and rehab facilities, and senior living homes.
“And I knew it was going to help so many more people,” she said. "People who grew up around agriculture start remembering that feeling. Memories start to come back."
ABC15 was able to see the impact firsthand on Wednesday.
One person apparently remembered that he, too, worked on a dairy farm.
"They paid us pretty well too," he said.
For Lawless, that's the goal — helping these seniors bond with one another through unique shared experiences.
“There’s nothing that replaces the engagement and friendship of having a community you belong to,” she said.
Being a nonprofit, donations are a crucial way to sustain the program and efforts and Dolly Star Foundation does accept donations. You can visit http://dollystarfoundation.com for more information.