Puppy Love

The day your first child is born, everything changes. Colors get brighter, the world gets bigger and your heart explodes with an unconditional love you didn’t even know was possible.

Such was the case on that emotional day last June when I held Señor Peepers—a prairie dog I adopted in Utah—for the first time. I signed the papers, cradled my baby and felt an incredible surge of joy I hadn’t experienced since my first Dairy Queen raspberry truffle blizzard many moons ago.

Now I should, I suppose, make it clear that I was actually holding a stuffed animal version of Señor Peepers. Adorable as they are, prairie dogs can transmit both monkey pox and bubonic plague to humans—both of which would require more sick days than I currently have.

So until the day when the FDA approves an experimental drug program that enables me to get monthly prairie dog vaccines, I must embrace the plush, toy version of my son. And whenever I look at that stuffed animal that sits—quite creepily—on my desk in work, I’m reminded that somewhere out there in the fields of southern Utah, Señor Peepers is thinking of me.

If you have a pet—particularly one you practically regard as a human baby—then you understand. There’s just something about an animal that makes you feel loved.

The residents at Country Village Apartments know all about it.

A year and a half ago, Sharron Lambeth, Senior Regional Property Manager for Beacon Property Management, adopted a golden retriever named Pang Pang. The 6-year-old pooch was trained and certified as a therapy dog and now spends her days at the 1,238-unit senior housing community in Mira Loma, Calif., visiting with residents, riding around in the golf carts and greeting people in the leasing office.

The 69-pound dog is the perfect community pet. Lambeth says many of the older residents do not have the money or resources to take care of a pet on their own but love the companionship and unconditional love that Pang Pang provides. She also poses no threat of spreading a turn-of-the-century disease, like my little guy.

With more than 400 Facebook friends, the dog has become an important—and popular—member of Country Village. The community has incorporated Pang Pang into all of its advertising—from calendars to the community website and “Team Pang Pang” t-shirts that employees wear.

Lambeth says Pang Pang has not only improved resident retention, but captivated the community of Mira Loma. Her presence has been requested for everything from meetings at the nearby Chamber of Commerce to the local senior center and library, where the dog will be a part of their reading program.

“It’s hard to describe—her connection with our residents goes beyond what we’ve ever imagined,” Lambeth says. “She’s a ray of sunshine.”

Just like Señor Peepers—bubonic plague and all.

For information on Country Village’s therapy dog program, check out the article “Puppy Love” in the February issue of units, which mails Feb. 8.