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Memory care program’s newest staff member has four legs, a tail and a really big heart

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Tusk has become the newest staff member at the Village at Northrise (VaN) Memory Support Program.

The 5- to 6-year-old lab mix became the program’s new emotional support animal (“resident dog”) just before the start of the new year, replacing Mattie, who had retired several months earlier after seven years on the job.

Tusk was being fostered from the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley by Starr “Foster” Schneider when the program’s resident care director, Bonnie Zeiler, met him for the first time Dec. 27.

“It was an instant hit,” said Zeiler, who adopted Tusk the next day and took him to VaN. “We didn’t look at any other dogs,” she said. “His eyes just told me he was the one.”

Tusk had been at ASCMV for about four months before being fostered by Schneider, Zeiler said. Because of the enforced isolation of the pandemic, he was really missing people before he was fostered and then adopted, she said.

VaN’s 20 memory care program residents and staff have fallen in love with the sweet-tempered and intelligent dog, who doesn’t bite, jump or bark.

Tusk has two beds at VaN, including one in Zeiler’s office, where he stays during residents’ mealtimes. Otherwise, with residents sharing food with him in addition to his regular meals, Tusk “would be as big as a bus,” Zeiler said.

Throughout the day, Tusk follows the staff around, visiting residents.

“He goes from room to room,” Zeiler said, often helping to get residents up first thing in the morning.

“It makes such a difference to our residents,” Zeiler said. “It’s helpful for everybody, especially people with dementia. It helps to bring a little normalcy to their day,” she said.

He’s also very popular with residents’ loved ones and other visitors to the center, Zeiler said.

“It blesses the residents and their families,” Zeiler said. “He gets a lot of love. It’s really a benefit for all of us.”

The center’s certified medication aide, Cory Fantino (her mother is Mattie’s new owner), walks Tusk every evening, and even comes in on Saturdays to walk him.

“He’s living his best life here,” Fantino said.

Tusk is the third resident dog at the center, following a French poodle named Fluffy and Mattie, who is a Havanese poodle. There also have been two cats in residence, said Zeiler, who has been with VaN for 11 years.