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High schooler's project brings dogs to seniors

Assignment explores emotional responses to pets
Morningside Pet
Posted at 5:40 AM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 06:59:32-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — One high school senior in the Kansas City area took a class assignment to heart and put it into action to help others.

Shawnee Mission East senior Bella Tegtmeier knows firsthand about a pet’s unconditional love for its owner.

“I went through some stuff sophomore year and I have a dog and two cats and they just have helped me get through issues of my own,” she said.

And she channeled that into her big senior year capstone.

“The assignment was to write a paper on an issue or something you're passionate about, and this is kind of like required for graduation, and so I wrote my paper on how animals and pets help with anxiety, depression and long term illnesses,” Tegtmeier said.

Tegtmeier took her project to Morningside Place in Overland Park, using her family friend’s dog, Boone. The memory care facility’s residents immediately took to him.

“They start petting the animal, and when they're doing that, they're actually working on range of motion. They tap into long-term memories,” said Chasity Robinson-Mwangi, Morningside’s community relations director.

Boone met about 20 to 25 residents.

“Well I’ve always had dogs, I’ve had show dogs for years. We don’t get to see them, we’re in our room most of the time,” resident Cappi Braddock said.

One of the residents is Bella Tegtmeier’s nana, Patsy.

“I love dogs, I love animals, I’ve had all kinds of animals since I was very young,” Patsy Howell said.

This assignment is personal.

“My Nana was diagnosed 11 years ago, she’s had Alzheimer’s for 11 years and she just, I mean, she just loves those animals so much, sometimes she gives them more attention than her own grandkids,” Tegtmeier said.

She'll carry what she's learned into her future career.

“I am majoring in social work, I just love helping people, I go on mission trips, I love to volunteer. So this is just another fun volunteer opportunity for me and I really, really enjoyed it,” Tegtmeier said.

Morningside just welcomed back visitors in March after a long pandemic shutdown, opening the door for Tegtmeier to conduct her assignment.

The majority of the residents are vaccinated, and those that met Boone all said they were grateful for visits from man and woman’s best friend.