Introducing Moose and Otter

Care partners with four legs – and huge hearts.

We’ve shared the story of the two pets who call The Mooring on Foreside home, but a little refresher is always worthwhile. Mick, our perpetually hungry yellow lab, is doing very well, taking housemates out on regular strolls, and cleaning up anything edible that finds its way to the floor. Mo, our beautiful, wonderful cat, is temporarily bunking with one of our care partners, where he’s always searching for new hiding/napping places.

Maybe you already know about Mick and Mo. If you don’t, their story is worth a read. So today, we’re going to introduce our two newest four-legged housemates who now call The Mooring at The Downs home: Moose and Otter.

First, a bit of background. During the summer of 2020, we were thrilled to welcome our first housemates to The Mooring at The Downs. Located in Scarborough, The Downs brought The Mooring concept to a beautiful neighborhood setting. The design and philosophy are the same – and thus far, both housemates and care partners have settled in beautifully, making the place feel like home.

For the first couple of months, we focused on settling in. Then, when everything was neatly in place, we started our search for the perfect housedog. Given our success with Mick, we started our new search at – and we knew we’d consult with our friends at Critter Cavalry, a Tennessee-based organization dedicated to placing canine and feline rescues of all ages in their forever homes. Their experience had proven critical in our early evaluation of Mick’s suitability for a memory care setting – and their guidance would once again prove indispensible.

Critter Cavalry to the rescue.

Our contact at Critter Cavalry, Candace Simpson Giles, has a keen understanding of the unique considerations related to pets in residential memory care settings. And as a devout animal lover, Candace learns everything there is to know about the rescued pets in her organization’s care. Throughout our efforts to make sure Mick’s temperament would be the perfect fit for a residential memory care environment, Candace provided clear advice to guide our evaluation. That advice proved invaluable – and Mick is living proof of her wisdom and commitment. 

When the time came to find a match for The Mooring at The Downs, Brittany – a Mooring staffer with loads of rescue dog experience – went to work. She started with a few simple rules.

First, our new dog needed to be a rescue. She recognized the need these animals have for forever homes, and she also understood that we needed an “experienced” dog – one with a calm, companionable, proven temperament.

Second, Brittany appreciated the peculiar, Mooring-specific advantages of a dog with separation anxiety. In ordinary settings, where people might come and go, these dogs struggle with – and overreact to – solitude. At The Mooring, where housedogs are never left alone, separation anxiety is a non-issue – resulting in the perfect match between a dog that needs constant companionship, and a population of housemates and care partners that’s on site, around the clock.

Third, Brittany knew The Downs would need a large dog. While small dogs make wonderful pets, their size means they can go unnoticed. When underfoot, they pose a real risk for housemates with compromised perception, balance, and mobility.

With those criteria in mind, Brittany began her search. In no time, she singled out a large, four-year-old dog named “Moose” with golden-brown fur, and as luck would have it, he was a Critter Cavalry rescue. While Moose’s mix was uncertain – the best guess is Mastiff and Labrador Retriever – Candace confirmed that his history checked all the boxes. He had been surrendered from a life as an outdoor dog, where he repeatedly broke past his invisible fence in search of company. Unfortunately, the neighbors were unsympathetic to his desire for human companionship.

Even in rescue, Moose didn’t like being alone, and he was willing to do anything necessary to remedy his isolation. One day, when his foster family left him indoors, they returned to find him outside – patiently awaiting their return on the roof of the house.

Moose – plus one.

There was, however, a wrinkle. Moose was bonded to a littermate (and escape partner) named Otter – a dark brindle-colored male dog with a handsome white blaze down his chest. Separation anxiety aside, Candace attested to their warm, ordinarily calm dispositions. They simply loved people, and hated being left alone.

Brittany pondered the opportunity, and discussed the situation at length with The Mooring team. The plan for a dog at The Downs didn’t anticipate a pair of dogs. But the right dogs? When opportunity knocks, it’s best not to lock the door.

So it was that Brittany, with the support of The Mooring team, started making plans to meet Moose and Otter. In normal times, the trip to Connecticut – where the dogs were located – would have involved some serious logistics. With the added challenge of the pandemic, those plans took on new complexity. Brittany persevered, and eventually headed south.

When Brittany arrived, she knew she had made the right decision. From the moment they met, Brittany, Moose, and Otter connected. And while she was instantly impressed with their calm, friendly demeanor, she was particularly struck by their emotional intelligence. Both Moose and Otter had an instinctive ability to sense their fit with each person they met, and to shape their behavior accordingly.

After spending time with the dogs and doing plenty of role-playing, the plan moved forward. Brittany loaded Moose and Otter into her car and headed for home. The ride home was so quiet she had to remind herself the dogs were on board. Once she reached home, the dogs bunked at her house for a multi-day period of transition and observation.

Home for good.

When Moose and Otter arrived for their first day at The Downs, they immediately went to work. After a quick tour of the home, and brief introductions to care partners and housemates, the pair was drawn to the bedside of a housemate in palliative care. For some time, the housemate had been restless. But when she met Moose and Otter, she responded immediately by relaxing – and asking to share her bed with one of the dogs.

Because of her connection – and consistent with our belief in honoring the reasonable wishes of our palliative care housemates – we complied. For hours, one of the dogs cuddled beside her, while the other remained at the bedside.

Over the course of the days that followed, Moose and Otter repeatedly demonstrated a keen understanding of their role. They formed unique relationships with each housemate, noticeably adjusting their behavior to suit the situation.

As time passed, their distinctive personalities were revealed. To this day, Otter is a pure people dog who revels in attention, while Moose is more independent, happy to receive affection – but just as satisfied to nap on his own. Not surprisingly, some housemates prefer Otter’s cuddles, while others appreciate Moose’s calm, quiet presence.

Today, Moose and Otter are indispensable members of The Downs’ care partner team. They still need occasional reminders that comfortable couches and chairs are for people only, but they consistently show up when and where they’re needed. While some people feel they’re lucky to have landed at The Downs, we’re inclined to feel that we’re the lucky ones.

Side note: why dogs and memory care go together.

Progressive memory decline is a topic few people ponder until there’s reason to ponder it. So when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, there’s a lot to learn. One of the most interesting – even rewarding – topics to explore is the unusual connection that’s observed when people with dementia engage with domesticated animals.

Over the years at The Mooring and elsewhere, members of our care team have had plenty of opportunity to see pets and dementia patients interact. With very few exceptions, the connection is so immediate and natural that it seems instinctive, even magical.

 At The Mooring, our experienced care partners have a lot of tools and tactics at their disposal to connect with housemates. But those with dementia are not unlike the rest of us: sometimes they want to engage – and sometimes they don’t. In many of the latter instances, pets still have the ability to cut through the resistance – and find inroads people simply can’t.

It makes sense, really. Pets aren’t judgmental – they simply love us for who we are.  So during those times when a housemate won’t engage with a care partner, they’re still open to the entreaties of a determined dog or cat. In some cases, we’ve seen non-verbal housemates open up and speak clearly to an attention-seeking animal. In others, we’ve seen housemates with advanced dementia come to life, engaging in ordinary, everyday interactions not seen for months, even years. For whatever reason, paths long closed to more complex interpersonal communication processes reopen when a dog or cat enters the picture. In those cases, it’s almost as though dementia has released its grip.

At the risk of anthropomorphism (it’s a good word, and we couldn’t resist), many domesticated animals demonstrate something much like emotional intelligence. As the stories of Moose, Otter, and Mick demonstrate, our house canines have very individualized relationships with each of the people in their lives. Generally, they recognize that our housemates aren’t capable of energetic play – but that they’re great resources for cuddling and (particularly with Mick), snacks.

Because Moose and Otter are young and lively, they often engage in gentle, scheduled roughhousing with willing care partners. Each afternoon, following a day of gentle interactions with housemates at The Downs, both Moose and Otter welcome the opportunity to play tug and fetch with care partners. Once they’ve had the opportunity to work off their natural puppy energy and they make their way back into the home, they immediately resume their calm, gentle housemate ways.