The basics: Judy Gross, 80, is a retired special education teaching assistant in the Fresno Unified School District. She is widowed with one son and a granddaughter. Gross also has a dog, Pickles, 5, who is a Chihuahua-corgi mix. She lost 15-year-old Nete, a Pomeranian, in November.
What she does: Gross and Pickles, who is registered with Therapy Dogs International, visit residents at Sierra Villa Assisted Living center in Clovis every Friday afternoon with Norma Meek, 95, through a ministry program with Memorial United Methodist Church.
The women lead residents in singing old church hymns and serve tea and cookies. Gross reads Bible passages. The highlight of the visit, up until last month, was Gross’ dog Nete, who would bark without prompting during the song, “How Much is that Doggy in the Window.”
At Christmas time, the women ask church members for donations to pay for new socks that they hand out to residents in goodie bags with cookies, candies and a stuffed animal.
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Why she does it: “For the glory of God,” said Gross, an avid churchgoer since age 9.
The turning point: Gross worked year-round as a teaching assistant with little time to do anything extra. After retirement, she had more time during the day to spare. “Now I can do volunteer things,” Gross said. She belongs to a number of organizations including AARP, the order of the Eastern Star and the United Methodist women’s group.
Details, details: The assisted living center puts out a water dish for Pickles every Friday. The dog walks around the dining room waiting for residents to lower their hands next to their chair and call her name. Pickles then walks over to the resident for scratches and petting.
Gross jokes that she and Meeks are older than most of the residents living at the center. She sings old church hymns to help residents with their memories. Some residents can’t see and can’t read the songbooks, but they can remember the old songs, she said. “It’s good for them to use their memory,” Gross said.
What others say: The visits are “about spirituality and socialization … one of the things they added is pet therapy. That really has enhanced the whole visit,” said Jeanne Espinoza, the center’s director of community relations. “They’re lovely people – Judy, in particular, because of all the energy she has. She has a lot of energy at her age. She’s got that voice and that character.”
How you can help: Donations to help the ministry can be sent to Memorial United Methodist, 1726 Pollasky Ave., Clovis. The public is invited to attend the 11 a.m. Sunday service.