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Puppy love
Training program enjoyed by pet owners, seniors alike
Veterinarian Cari Schaffer helps out during the behavioral training class she holds at Orchard Manor. The class has been held nearly every year since 1999, allowing new dog owners the chance to train their pet. - photo by Helen Anderson

Nearly every spring and fall for the past 12 years, the Orchard Manor activity room has gone to the dogs, literally, as the room has hosted a puppy behavioral class presented by the Lancaster Veterinary Clinic.

 “We love it,” said Donna Haines, director of Orchard Manor, which has been hosting the classes since 1999.

 Classes were started by veterinarian Cari Schaffer. Schaffer said that she studied behavioral sciences while in college and was behavior club president while in school, and wanted to bring that aspect here when she began working in Lancaster. Needing a space to host the training, she approached Sharon Reed, volunteer coordinator at the nursing home, about using the facility’s activity room. The arrangement has worked perfectly, as residents and staff of Orchard Manor fill the room to watch the five-week courses, and the animals get an environment that puts them to the challenge.

 “It’s been a good fit,” Schaffer said of Orchard Manor, who said that she planned on having the classes there for the foreseeable future. “I don’t want  leave Orchard Manor.”

 The class is for owners of any dog under a year of age. Schaffer noted that the atmosphere of the activity room has given her clients training for their puppies in real world circumstances. She noted that it gets loud and hot in the room at times. “If you can get them to behave here, they will behave anywhere,” Schaffer quipped, stating that in the early classes the owners can get frustrated during the training process. She said that over the five-week course, however, the relationship changes and things snap into place. “By the fifth class, they are like something you would see on the Dog Whisperer (television series). You can see in the dogs’ faces something like ‘I can’t wait to do what you want me to do next,” Schaffer stated.

 Schaffer said that her memories are filled with interacting with residents and staff at Orchard Manor. She recalled a longtime resident who always greeted the group of burgeoning trainers and their dogs at the end of the night, never missing the opportunity to watch a class. The resident always wanted to know if this was going to be the class where there would be a dalmation puppy. “He always wanted a dalmation puppy,” Schaffer recalled, but added that he just loved seeing the animals perform. She noted she missed him during this session as he had passed on.

 The residents enjoy the classes, especially the end of the night when the puppies are taken off the leash and allowed to play around. There are typically 35-40 residents in the room for the training, and Haines noted that a lot of family of staff also tend to show up to watch the weekly training sessions. “I think we are very lucky to have a veterinarian that is so giving to the community,” Haines said. “It’s kind of a unique program.”

 Schaffer noted that many of the families that have participated in the class keep coming back with new pets. “They have the knowledge of what to do, but the experience for the kids and the dog is what they come back for,” adding that some families have returned two, three times over the years.

 She said that she sees the dogs for years after those classes as they come in for checkups and clinic visits and she can see a real difference in them from those not trained, as they are always more cooperative during an appointment.

 The classes are not the only animal interaction. In 2004 the facility added a cat to the list of residents, with different people adopting Butterfly the cat. There are petting zoos, and both staff and families of residents bring in their pets regularly. Haines estimates that there are animal visits 4 to 5 times a week. The facility has never had an incident and has a policy that animals must stay on a leash while in the nursing home.

 “There is a high percentage that enjoy that and it is very meaningful,” Haines said of the visits.