Cat finds new home at Monarch in Saco
SACO – “The fundamental question in long term care is, are we running an institution or providing a home?” June O’Neill, senior living consultant at Kindred Living at Monarch, an assisted living residence in Saco, asked herself and her higher-ups. “If it is providing a home then it is our job to fill this home with life . . . This life can come in different forms, but today I am focusing on animals.”
Thus Marty Blue, a 13-year-old longhaired Siamese cat, was introduced to Monarch, injecting a new form of life into the residence.
“He’s beautiful. He’s got big, fat double paws. He’s so great,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said after the idea was formed to usher new life into Monarch to make the residence less clinical, she and other Monarch representatives browsed West Kennebunk’s Animal Welfare Society website to look for a cat. When they pinned down the one they thought was most desirable, an Animal Welfare Society employee recommended Marty instead.
Monarch adopted the cat just two days later, on Thursday, April 6. His original name was Marty, but O’Neill, wanting to “jazz it up,” and because of his striking blue eyes decided to call him Marty Blue.
Marty is the first cat to be a permanent resident of Monarch, but animal life is nothing new to the assisted living community. O’Neill said she and her boss regularly bring in their dogs – three total, including a black lab – and they’ve even brought in everything from a pony and a donkey to a macaw and a pig. All of them except for the pig went into the building, rather than simply going to windows from the outside, she said.
Monarch is composed of three different “neighborhoods,” or areas where residents live, O’Neill said, and Marty lives in the Chamberlain neighborhood. Monarch serves about 45 senior residents that range in age from 75 to 90, and there are 15 rooms in each neighborhood. One of the other neighborhoods houses a dove named Hop, and the third contains a large fish tank.
“He is a beautiful animal,” said resident Toni Watson, describing Marty. “I had a cat named Amos and I miss him.”
O’Neill said when Monarch first introduced Marty to his new home, Marty was timid and scared.
“The first day he hid. The next day he was in the living room like he owns the place,” she said.
Marty wasn’t the only one scared on the first day. One resident was reluctant to be around him because she, too, was scared.
It didn’t take long for her to surrender to his affectionate draw.
“Her daughter called me to keep the cat out of Mom’s room (on Friday, April 7),” she said. “I get to work on Monday, and an employee said, guess where Marty spent the day? It spent the day in the lady’s room. I said it’s not supposed to be there. But the employee said the lady wanted it there and wanted it to stay. Now Marty (finds) her and anytime he wants quiet time he goes to her room.
“Originally she was afraid of him,” she continued. “She said, nope, she likes to have him there. It has changed and she has a little buddy now. A lot more people go to her room so she has a lot of company, because they all want to see the cat.”
Bringing Marty to Monarch is part of a new shift in the senior living world that allows animals to coexist with residents to enhance the quality of life for residents, O’Neill said.
“Pets are changing the face of senior living. A senior community amenity survey found that accepting pets is by far the most important amenity that a community can provide. Therefore the majority of senior living providers currently allow residents to keep a cat or small-to-medium sized dog,” she said. “Senior living recognizes the demand for pet friendly accommodations and promotes the benefits to their residents.”
O’Neill said there is scientific evidence that exemplifies animals providing health benefits to humans. She said animals can lower blood pressure, improve moods, decrease behavioral problems and stress, increase span of life, provide a higher quality of life to people and more, citing multiple studies and anecdotal evidence.
“Contact is healthy for people,” she said. “With an animal there comes a lot of physical and emotional interaction with tactile touching of animals, like hugging and petting. For seniors, the benefits of a furry companion can be life-changing. Walking a dog is great cardiovascular exercise, but just the simple act of caring for a pet – petting, brushing, feeding – provides both mild activity and a means to stay engaged with the world.
“Pets can make the elderly feel needed, and that feeling can translate into a greater sense of purpose and selfworth,” she continued. “During what can be a lonely time of life, the unconditional love of a cherished dog or cat can be a bridge to more socialization with others, mental stimulation and a renewed interest in life.”
Eileen Andrews, a resident of Monarch, shared her reverence for Monarch’s new furry companion.
“He loves me,” she said. “Marty is a hero because he really tries to help everybody.”