While scientific data is not needed to know that pets simply make people feel good, scientific research does show reasons why the companion-animal bond is therapeutic. After only 15 minutes of interacting with a beloved pet, “a chemical chain reaction in the brain” occurs leading to lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels almost immediately. Over the long term, pet bonding can lower cholesterol levels and help protect again heart disease and stroke. The Legacy Senior Communities CEO and President Michael Ellentuck is a firm believer in those kinds of benefits personally and professionally. Ellentuck is a passionate dog lover and has enjoyed bringing his loyal and loveable four-legged friend with him to work nearly every day for years. Oreo, a Maltese terrier mix, is considered part of The Legacy Senior Communities’ corporate personality as he sits in on meetings and regularly visits both the retirement communities – The Legacy Willow Bend in Plano and The Legacy Preston Hollow in Dallas.
“I love having Oreo at work with me for a number of reasons,” said Ellentuck. “He provides a very calming and welcoming presence for everyone around me whether it’s staff, residents or visitors to our communities, and he helps break down barriers as a conversation starter.”
Oreo came to be a part of the Ellentuck family and thereby joined The Legacy Senior Communities’ staff about three years ago. He was adopted out of love and hired based on his intelligence and friendly spirit. Ellentuck found Oreo at a rescue shelter a year after his previous dog passed away. He remembers locking eyes with Oreo and knowing “it was meant to be.” He and the adorable mellow pooch bonded immediately, and that is the same reason everyone else working at The Legacy Senior Communities looks forward to seeing the dog every day.
“This is the most loving dog my wife and I have had through the years. Oreo visits both of our communities, and instantly brightens people’s day,” said Ellentuck. “When I step out for a few minutes, he simply visits someone else’s office and finds a friend wherever he goes. He even sits at the conference table for board meetings and has very professional behavior.”
Ellentuck has been CEO and President of The Legacy Senior Communities for more than 13 years, and before he was bringing Oreo to work with him, he was bringing Gatsby–his previous dog of 18 years. Gatsby was part of The Legacy Willow Bend from the beginning running through the grounds before construction began. Ellentuck even named the casual gathering spot for residents on the campus, “Gatsby’s Lounge,” after his faithful friend, and “yappy hour” events occur regularly for the seniors to bring their own dogs to the community bar there.
“We enforce size limitations and ensure that anyone wanting to bring a pet when moving into our communities either is able to provide the proper care for that pet or has made appropriate arrangements in advance to have a designated person in charge of caring for the pet,” said Ellentuck. “We are happy to welcome the pets to campus, and we know it means the world to the seniors who live here. I think of my dog as a part of my family, and I know the members feel the same about their furry friends.”
The Legacy Willow Bend community is spread across 28 acres, and just as Ellentuck and the staff constantly seek innovative and exceptional ways to provide a top quality lifestyle for the seniors there, they also want to ensure a quality life for the members’ pets. Sugar’s Doggie Park, named after The Legacy Senior Communities’ Director of Development Andrea Statman’s dog, was designed for the seniors to enjoy a beautifully manicured fenced-in area with their dogs on campus. Oreo particularly loves to take walks and break up the day with Ellentuck in the park, which in turn helps Ellentuck take those needed pauses out of his day to center himself and enjoy some fresh air.
“Oreo gives me a perspective check and seeing the way he leaves everyone smiling after just a few minutes of interacting with them is a reminder of the core purpose of what we do,” said Ellentuck. “Our commitment and motivation within The Legacy Senior Communities is to serve seniors and their families. We are focused on building those connections with our residents and their family members.”
Dogs often can facilitate that initial connection and affection that is so important among seniors, especially those in memory care. Having tactile stimulation through petting a dog generates emotional support through the animal’s non-verbal communication, which is soothing and brings joy to the person involved. The interaction also can raise positive childhood memories of a person’s own previous pets, and over time those moments of bonding with the animal actually can reduce the risk of depression. Ellentuck has witnessed those benefits when bringing Oreo to visit members living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Ellentuck enjoys having Oreo with him personally but also loves to see the positive effects Oreo has on everyone else. He plans to continue bringing his charming canine friend with him to work as often as possible.