A Philadelphia skilled nursing facility is making sure its residents have easy access to the warmth, love and therapeutic benefits holding or petting an animal can bring – by hosting a dog park right on its property. Renaissance Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center reserves a portion of its West Philadelphia facility for the Chester Avenue Dog Park. This slice of land, located at 48th Street and Chester Avenue, offers more than 150 dog park members a place to take their dogs to exercise and enjoy the outdoors off-leash in an urban neighborhood.
But the dog park, which first opened about 15 years ago, doesn’t just benefit the neighborhood – the relationship that the dog park members have forged with Renaissance Healthcare also provides its residents with unique enrichment opportunities. About 20 members volunteer to bring their dogs to visit with Renaissance residents on a regular basis.
“These visits are particularly welcome among residents who have owned pets all their lives,” said Timothy McCracken, BSM, Renaissance’s Director of Resident Services. “The volunteers are as eclectic as the neighborhoods they come from and reflect the diversity of Renaissance’s West Philadelphia community. Among the longtime volunteers are a former seminarian, a banker and a neighborhood restaurateur.”
But the residents’ engagement with the dog park doesn’t stop there. Each year, dog park members put on a Howl-O-Ween parade. Residents get the opportunity to interact with dogs and owners dressed in costumes. “This year,” McCracken said, “a dog dressed up as Yoda made an appearance, as did a dog dressed up as a spider and another as a pumpkin.”
Residents get another chance to interact with the dogs during an annual holiday visit. Called Santa Paws and His Reindogs, it is an interfaith celebration of the holidays – featuring pets dressed up with reindeer antlers, as well as yarmulkes in honor of Hanukah.
Each Renaissance resident also receives a holiday gift from a dog park member as part of the dog park’s commitment to community service. Gifts have ranged from bottles of designer fragrance to Phillies sweat suits to large-print Bibles. The gifts are distributed on Christmas day.
Fred Wolfe, a West Philadelphia resident and dog park member for 12 years, thanked Renaissance for allowing the dog park to use the land and said that volunteering at the facility was the members’ way of showing their appreciation. “Spending half an hour with an animal really gives the residents great joy and enhances their quality of life,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe also helps out with weekly bingo – which he calls the “highlight” of his week – and assists in distributing the presents on Christmas morning. This experience has become more meaningful to him since his husband passed away because it is a way for Wolfe to honor his memory by continuing to participate in an activity they used to undertake together.
Facility Administrator Carmella Kane, MA, NHA, is grateful for all the support the dog park members provide – especially their monetary gifts to the resident fund. “Our relationship with the Chester Avenue Dog Park is central to our mission of being an integral part of the community and working together with our neighbors,” Kane said.
To say thanks for all that the dog park members do for them, residents of Renaissance host an annual outdoor Bark-B-Q, where they provide the pets with homemade dog biscuits and personalized water bowls.
“At Renaissance, we’re always looking for new ways our residents can engage with the wider community,” McCracken said. “Our strong relationship with the Chester Avenue Dog Park is a great example of the partnership we have forged with our neighbors.”