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Newborns at Grand Forks nursing home: Therapy dog has 14 puppies

Bill Hill, a resident of Valley Memorial Homes' nursing facility in Grand Forks, N.D., sits contently with one of 14 puppies that visited the complex Tuesday, March 12, 2013, for a "puppy shower." A dog belonging to Carole Torgerson, an employee, just had 14 puppies and she brought them to the center for the party. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

By Brandi Jewett / Grand Forks Herald - New mom Bella wove in and out of the crowd gathered Tuesday at a Grand Forks nursing home as she tried to keep track of her babies — all 14 of them.

The puppies were being passed from person to person during the baby shower for the 3-year-old Golden Retriever, who serves as a therapy dog at Valley Memorial Homes’ Woodside Village.

Owner Carole Torgerson, a recreational therapy assistant, has been bringing in the pups once a week for residents to hold and cuddle, giving the 3-week-olds a jumpstart on following in their mom’s footsteps.

“The bottle-feeding has been a big hit,” Torgerson said.

Madison Lubinski, 12, and Megan Birkholz, 12, found a quiet spot away from the commotion in the party area to do just that, feeding Jill and Sonny.

The girls, whose mothers work at the facility, said they were excited to have puppies in the building.

“Every time you visit, you can see them,” Lubinski said.

The litter of seven girls and seven boys was named by Woodside residents, who were asked to submit names of famous couples.

Fun and games

Bella’s “puppy shower” featured cookies, puppy chow and a bone-shaped cake, which she took a bite of following a photograph with the confection.

More than 50 people turned out for the event, a testament to the dog’s popularity in Woodside Village’s Oakcrest wing. Residents, along with their children and grandchildren, came out to greet the puppies.

“It’s nice to see the families involved,” Torgerson said. “Something like this just brings people together.”

Ever the gracious host, Bella bounced from guest to guest where she licked a hand here and nuzzled a leg there.

The puppies, with eyes barely open and legs too wobbly to hold their weight, still managed to get in on the fun.

They even starred in their own version of musical chairs. Placed in an open shoebox, the pups were passed from lap to lap while the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” played. When the music stopped, a puppy was removed from the game until only one remained. The person holding the last puppy, named Juliet, was the game’s winner.

Pet therapy

When Bella isn’t tending to her litter, she and fellow therapy dog Ruby, 5, provide companionship to Oakcrest residents. A floor below, Ole the cat and Doc Holiday the cockatiel have similar jobs.

“Some people have to leave behind a pet when they move here,” Torgerson said. “This gives them the opportunity to have that back.”

Dan Kostad, the facility’s recreation director, said Bella will take over for Ruby when she retires in the next year. Ruby lives fulltime at the home, but staff are encouraged to take her home on the weekends to give her a break.

Residents are charged with most of the dogs’ care including feeding, grooming, exercising and slipping them a snack now and then.

“The dogs learn fast which residents have the snacks,” Kostad said. “They’ll make their rounds from room to room.”

Torgerson said having pets present helps bridge feelings of intimidation residents and their families may feel when coming into a place such as Woodside Village.

Kostad agreed, saying the pets make the home feel less institutional.

“When you walk into a place like this and see a dog, it changes your perception a little bit,” he said.