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Making Magical Memories with Unexpected Animal Visitors

Updated: 3 days ago

Most of us are familiar with the heartwarming sight of therapy dogs visiting hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes, spreading joy with their wagging tails and gentle nature. However, you may not realize there are other species that can be just as helpful, even some you might never expect.

Back in the 90s, when I first started Wildside Animal Productions in Miami, our job was to maintain a registry of all kinds of animals for film and magazine photo shoots. Our animals could be seen on the big screen, as well as Vogue, Elle and even Ocean Drive. While dogs were certainly our most popular request, some being requested by name, like Pig the Jack Russell, we soon expanded our collection to include exotic and farm animals as well.

An Unforgettable Nursing Home Visit

One day, we received an invitation to visit a local nursing home. The request was simple – to bring along a few dogs for the residents to enjoy. Of course, we agreed without hesitation. But then, a brilliant idea struck us: what if we brought along some other animal friends too? The woman on the phone seemed a bit confused but ultimately agreed, likely assuming we'd bring cats or other typical household pets.

When the day arrived, our van was loaded with a delightful menagerie: a dog, a cat, a bird, a snake, a Galapogos tortoise named Cowboy, and a few other surprises. As we entered the nursing home's activity room, we knew we had a tough crowd ahead of us. The residents had been wheeled in and placed around the room, some not even facing us or each other, and the atmosphere felt forced.

Undeterred, we rearranged the seating so everyone could see us clearly and began by asking if any of them had owned pets in the past. Slowly but surely, smiles began to emerge, and a few residents eagerly shared stories of their beloved animal companions. It was a long process, but they started talking in a whisper and as more and more shared, the room got noticibly louder and then they starting talking to each other!

Bringing Joy with Unexpected Guests

When a resident mentioned a dog, we brought out our lovely Zuma, who resembled the famous Benji. As tears of joy filled one woman's eyes, we knew we were onto something special. When another resident spoke fondly of her cat, we introduced her to our calico feline, Boris, placing him gently on her lap and allowing him to receive affectionate pets and cuddles. While some residents initially seemed hesitant or disinterested, we had a surprise in store that would captivate even the most skeptical hearts. Enter Dundi, our Yellow-naped Amazon parrot. As I spoke, Dondi would mimic my voice, yelling "Stop it, Do you know your fat?!" and mocking me playfully. Laughter erupted throughout the room, and residents who had previously held back now were laughing out loud and found the courage to pet and coo sassy Dundi.

But the real showstopper was our 50-pound boa constrictor. At first, silence filled the room, but then one brave soul exclaimed, "I'll do it!" and reached out for the snake with confidence. As she stroked its smooth scales, proclaiming how soft it felt, a ripple of curiosity spread through the crowd, and soon everyone wanted to experience the thrill of interacting with this unexpected guest. For our grand finale, we brought out Cowboy, our galapolos tortoise, dressed in a cowboy hat and arriving by being pulled along in a red wagon. He's a tortoise. He's super slow. Hence the wagon. We passed out banana slices, allowing the residents to feed and interact with this gentle giant, their faces alight with laughter and conversation. The room was so loud, it was obvious we lost them and they could not hear or pay attention to us anymore. Cowboy stole the show.

A Magical Moment of Connection

What had begun as a seemingly ordinary nursing home visit transformed into a magical moment of connection, joy, and youthful wonder. The room was alive with laughter, conversation, and newfound friendships. In that moment, we witnessed the incredible power of animals – big or small, exotic or domestic – to bring people together, transcend boundaries, and remind us of the simple pleasures in life. Animals have an unparalleled ability to make us forget our troubles, enrich our lives with unconditional love, and sometimes, just sometimes, make us feel young again. That day at the nursing home was a testament to the profound impact our animal friends can have on our lives, no matter how unexpected or unconventional they may be. That day we ALL experienced something so much greater than any of us.

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