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Therapy dog visits with Alzheimer's, Dementia patients in Niagara County

Adeline is a four-year-old English Springer Spaniel who hasn't met a tennis ball she didn't like. She visits with the residents at Brookdale Niagara once a week.

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Every Tuesday, it's playtime for Adeline at Brookdale Niagara.

She knows when her owners, Gene and Lori Musial, are getting close to the facility. Her little nub of a tail wags faster and faster, and she can't wait to break through the door. That is unless there's a bird outside to chase.

Once inside, Adeline knows the routine — wait impatiently in the center of the room until someone picks up a tennis ball and gives it a good hurl down the hallway, fetch the ball, drop it at someone's feet, and wait for the process to repeat. 

Adeline does this for an hour or more. She gets plenty of pets and exercise and is the center of attention.

But she's so much more than that. She does for the residents what traditional medicine cannot.

"Dogs are magic. We see that every time Adeline comes. The residents brighten up. They get excited. We rearrange the furniture so they know something really fun is going to happen," said Brookdale Niagara executive director Mary Lou Perry.

The residents at Brookdale Niagara have Alzheimer's or dementia, and they are in varying stages of the disease. In addition to memory and cognitive issues, many have anxiety and depression.

Adeline helps them to break free from the walls of dementia and laugh and smile again.

"When she comes in, it seems to lighten up the room," said Gene Musial. "They play catch with her. They love throwing the ball down the long hall for her because that's how she loves to run. And I'm probably going to owe this place a new carpet one of these days because she's going to wear it out!"

Adeline is a busy girl, especially this time of year. She spends 10 or more hours each week visiting various colleges and universities and the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. She's specially trained as a therapy dog through the SPCA's Paws for Love program.

She helps to calm the people she works with, and she brings a smile to everyone's face...but especially her owners.

"It makes me feel good inside. There's too much sadness in today's world," said Gene Musial. "This makes us happy. If we can make one person smile, one person laugh, it's just...it makes my day."