NEWLAND — On June 3, the residents of the Cranberry House Assisted Living Community participated in a fun event to “adopt” stuffed animals. Each senior was able to pick out their own furry friend from a selection of more than 60 unique animals including cats, dogs, pigs, lambs, horses, cows, monkeys, lions, tigers, and bears. The event was organized by The Watauga Dementia Project as part of the group’s efforts to distribute stuffed animals and other resources to dementia patients across the High Country area.

“Owning a live pet is not a viable option for many who struggle with dementia, but research shows that stuffed animals can provide a similar level of tactile comfort and familiarity,” said Tyler Mancini, the Project Coordinator. “The effect is especially strong when a patient finds a plush version of an animal they used to own or are particularly fond of.”

After hosting a successful adoption event at the Deerfield Ridge home in Boone, the group’s attention was drawn to the Newland memory care facility and its 50 senior denizens. The event and the animals were a great joy to residents who, due to COVID-19 restrictions, hadn’t had many in-person visitors over the past year. After choosing and naming their animal, participants received a snapshot picture and signed an “Adoption Form” agreeing to love and care for their new friend.

Local guitarist Andy Page also joined the celebration, playing some live jazz tunes for the event. Pictures taken at the event show the emotional effect these animals had on some residents.

“To say our residents enjoyed it would be an understatement,” remarked Renisha Arnett, the facility’s Life Enrichment Coordinator. “The stuffed animals give them a chance to nurture and care for something else which stimulates positive emotions and increases overall happiness. It also creates opportunities for a loved one to interact and connect on a more meaningful level as they engage in conversations that include the animal.”

The Watauga Dementia Project is a local group sponsored by The Friends of the Western Watauga Branch Library, an organization that has been fortunate to receive grants and donations to create awareness and support for families affected by dementia. Along with organizing activities at facilities and distributing robotic therapy pets to in-home patients, the group is working to spread awareness about dementia and offer educational materials, support groups, and other resources to patients and caretakers in the community.

To learn about the group’s continued efforts, make a donation, or see more pictures from the event, follow The Watauga Dementia Project page on Facebook ( This event was dedicated to the late Joseph “Joe” Daly, a teacher, friend and inspiration to many.

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