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Top Dog: Adopted pooch brightens days of Bethany Community residents

Jo Colvin | Echo Press Joan Fjoslien, a resident at Bethany Community, got a "kiss" from Max during one of his recent visits.1 / 3
Max visits Bethany Community almost every workday. He is shown looking for some attention from Phyllis Hagen.2 / 3
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No one knows for sure where Max came from, but they sure are glad he's there.

"He's a gift from God," said Debbie Lambert, one of Max's biggest fans. "He makes me feel so happy."

Max is the latest addition to the Bethany Community family in Alexandria - a furry, wagging ball of joy and love to those whose days he continually brightens.

Max made his entrance at Bethany Community in April, after executive director Carol Kvidt decided the facility needed to join the ranks of the growing number of nursing homes that provide a pet for residents to love.

"Other places I had been to had a dog that lived at the facility," Kvidt explained. "I had seen that joy that it brings."

Kvidt contacted the Lakes Area Humane Society (LAHS) and with their input, waited patiently for just the right dog to come along. When the LAHS introduced her to Max more than six months after the search began, somehow, she knew right away that he was "the one."

"When I met Max it just seemed right," Kvidt said of seeing him for the first time. "He was so mellow. He was already trained and is pretty low key."

Estimated to be about 3 or 4 years old, and some type of terrier mix, Max left for his new home with Kvidt. As she was not comfortable with leaving the dog at the nursing home on a permanent basis, she decided that Max would have to live at her home and travel back and forth with her to work.

Even though Kvidt had never owned a dog and was leery about being a dog owner, Max quickly wagged his way into her heart.

"People tell you their dog stories and you think, 'I will never be one of those people,' " she said with a laugh. "I think I have become one of those people."

During workdays, Max hangs with Kvidt in her office, sunning himself in the window or snuggling next to her on her chair. Whenever she leaves her office, and when she makes rounds twice a day, he is right by her side, bringing cheer to the residents who eagerly await his visits.

"Oh yes, I look forward to it!," said Dorothy Larson, a resident at the home. As Max jumped up on her lap, eliciting laughter from Larson and her friends, she added, "He's my friend. He makes me feel happy."

Kvidt has countless stories of how Max's presence has helped residents at Bethany Community. After a few visits to a woman with advanced Alzheimer's, the woman smiled. Kvidt found out that the woman had a white poodle when she was a child, and that Max evoked happy memories from her past. She hadn't smiled for months.

Another woman who is bedbound and unable to show much emotion will smile when Max hops up on her bed and lies with her.

"Sometimes the response is only a smile, but there is a recognition in their eyes that is very cool," Kvidt said.

Joan Fjoslien, another avid Max fan, has always had dogs - most of the time more than one. She and her husband were constantly taking in strays in their home in the country, only to have them decide not to leave.

One of the hardest issues for her to deal with when faced with going to a nursing home was the loss of her beloved dogs. For her, seeing Max is a highlight to her day.

"It was wonderful when Carol got Max," Fjoslien said as the canine jumped up in her lap and gave her a kiss. "It's so healthy for people. Animals love you no matter what you do. It's something for you to love and they understand how you feel."

"It's like he understands when you talk to him," Larson agreed.

Kvidt has a theory that another reason Max has been such an asset to the home is that he inspires the feeling of being needed in those he visits.

"People need a purpose and need something to take care of," she surmised. "[Max gives them] the opportunity to care for something. They are giving to something. There is a reward in that for people."

So far, only one resident at Bethany Community has requested that Max not visit.

"We steer clear of him and respect that," Kvidt stressed.

Otherwise, the reaction from the residents has been nothing but excitement. As Max walks into a room, all those he greets get a childlike twinkle in their eyes as he hops up in their lap, and a glow of contentment as they reach down to pat his head. Smiles and laughs abound and they all are sure that Max remembers them most and loves them best.

The positive effect Max's presence has had on the residents at Bethany Community was brought to light recently. The residents were given a survey that included the following questions: "What makes your day?" and "What can we do to help you live life to the fullest?"

Several of them had the same answer.

"A visit from Max is all it takes."