Oliver, the Service Dog, is a source of smiles at Lanett senior center

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

LANETT — Participants in the Lanett Senior Center program met with a special visitor on Friday. His name is Oliver, and he loves to make new friends like the ones who are at the senior center every day. Oliver is a six-year-old dog who is being trained by Kristen and Kyra Fryer to be a service dog.

A Mastiff mix, Kyra is gentle and loves to be petted. He’s just glad to be around loving people, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Oliver was abandoned by a previous owner and left to fend for himself. He was found on a roadside by April Parrish in emaciated condition. 

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“He was nothing but skin and bones when we got him,” Parrish said.

She took him to the animal rescue she and husband Cale Parrish run. The dog was nursed back to health at Big Valley Animal Rescue and is now with the Fryers where he is being trained as a service dog. The Fryers are Oliver’s foster family. They will keep him until a permanent home is found for him. 

The Fryers have transitioned close to 50 dogs to new homes. Without this humane link of an animal rescue and a foster home, every one of those dogs may have either starved to death in the wild, got hit by a car or euthanized in a shelter.

On many occasions, dogs and cats that have gone through this process find a new best friend in a senior who lives alone for much of the time.

Programs such as Pets of the Elderly, a national 501(c)3 nonprofit, have the sole mission of providing seniors with companion animals. It both saves the life of a cat or dog and gives an elderly person a new best friend.

Cats are among the lowest maintenance animals out there. They need food, water, human companionship and a litter box. In most cases, they are OK with being indoors all the time.

Dogs, especially chihuahuas, Boston terriers and pugs, are low maintenance as well. They require less grooming, less long walks and less individual attention.

Studies have shown that it helps with a senior’s physical or mental health to have a dog or a cat. Having a much loved pet around can help relieve depression.

Each senior at the center took turns petting Oliver, and he absolutely loved it. One group putting together a puzzle, another group playing dominoes and another group playing a card game stopped what they were doing to love on the friendly dog for a bit. Oliver was the source of lots of smiles on Friday.

Mayor Jamie Heard shook Oliver’s paw, thanking him for coming and spreading some joy.

“I’m glad you guys like him,” Kyra said.  “We live in Smiths Station and have four rescues in our home right now. We have two Jack Russell mixes, a black lab mix, and of course, Oliver.”

Kyra said she named him Oliver for the character in the 1988 Disney movie “Oliver & Company,” an animated musical adventure. The film was loosely based on the Charles Dickens character Oliver Twist.

Much like dogs in the movie, Oliver wears a black bowtie on his collar.

“Studies show that pets help seniors have longer, happier lives,” said Senior Center Manager Sandra Thornton.

Pet therapy is now a widely accepted practice. Also known as animal-assisted therapy, it has been shown to be a way of treating physical and mental health issues. It’s a service frequently offered at hospitals, mental health institutions, nursing homes, senior care facilities, and in some cases, prisons. Studies have shown that having a cat or dog to pet can lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate. Interaction with a pet can help reduce depression and can be soothing for those with dementia. Feeding and grooming pets can help with a senior’s motor skills.