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Oliver makes his mark on Ecumen

Oliver with his “Grandpa Clair.” Oliver is owned by Julie Luchsinger, an employee at Ecumen Scenic Shores, and Clair, her father, is a resident. Oliver spends most days at work with Luchsinger and residents often stop to visit him. Submitted photo.1 / 5
Oliver started coming to work with Luchsinger when he was just eight weeks old. Submitted photo.2 / 5
Oliver visiting with Ecumen resident Grace Zemlin. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.3 / 5
Oliver visiting with Ecumen resident Bobby Smith. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.4 / 5
Oliver meeting Santa for the first time at Ecumen Scenic Shores. Submitted photo.5 / 5

When Oliver, a golden retriever, was eight weeks old, he was adopted – by a family of more than 40.

Technically, Oliver belongs to Julie Luchsinger, housing manager at Ecumen Scenic Shores Assisted Living in Two Harbors. But ever since Oliver was a puppy, he’s been spending most of his time at the assisted living home, and the residents have adopted him as their own.

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“We got him purposely to raise him here,” Luchsinger said.

He spends most days in Luchsinger’s office, and about a dozen residents regularly visit him, bringing treats and stopping to pet him.

“I don’t get as much company when he’s not here,” she said with a laugh.

Periodically, Luchsinger will put his leash on and walk him through the halls, stopping to visit the elderly residents.

“A big thing at Ecumen is creating home, and home to a lot of people is having a dog lying around,” she said. “Ecumen really encourages it.”

Ecumen residents Grace Zemlin and Bobby Smith stroked Oliver last week in the lounge at Ecumen, scolding him when he got too rowdy. Both of them owned dogs before moving to Ecumen.

“It adds a lot, having him here,” Zemlin said, adding that she often brings Oliver a dog treat during the day.

Smith has plenty of experience with dogs – she even trained one to be a companion dog and frequently brought her to the Minnesota Veteran’s Home in Silver Bay to visit the residents there.

“She was the one perfect dog,” Smith said. “They have to be calm and well-behaved.”

Oliver, still less than a year old, has a bit of maturing left to do before he’s the perfect companion dog. He still has moments of puppy rowdiness, but Luchsinger said he knows to be gentle with the residents. He’s taken some training classes and she plans to sign him up for a therapy dog training class when he’s old enough.

Growing up in an assisted living facility has helped immensely, she said. He’s not afraid of walkers and wheelchairs. He knows his home bases — Luchsinger’s office and the room of her dad Clair, who lives in the facility and is Oliver’s “grandpa.”

“It’s amazing how good he is here,”she said. “I think he has great potential.”

The benefits of pet therapy are well-documented – according to the Mayo Clinic, time spent with animals can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue. At Ecumen, studies aren’t necessary – it’s clear that Oliver is loved.

“It seems more like home with a dog around,” Luchsinger said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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