Maxwell, an 8-month-old rescue dog, went from leading a lonely existence at the animal shelter to being the life of the party with his new extended family at SunPorch of Dodge City.

The puppy officially belongs to Gina Salmans, SunPorch activities director. But she often brings Max to work to brighten the days for elders at the long-term-care residence, 501 W. Beeson Rd.

"There is something so special and therapeutic about an animal interacting with elders," Salmans said. "Most people here love having Max as part of the family.

"However, we get to know our residents’ likes and dislikes. If someone prefers to not interact with a pet, we honor that decision."

The activities director noted that her research indicates that scientific studies have shown interaction with animals can significantly improve physical and emotional health.

"Pets have unconditional love for their human friends," Salmans said. "They don’t care what we look like or where we live. But they can make us feel better physically and mentally."

Many SunPorch elders helped choose the name for the new addition to the family.

"I asked them to place their favorite names in a basket and we had a drawing for the name. Maxwell was the winner," Salmans explained.

Salmans said Max is her favorite breed – a rescue dog. But the Humane Society speculates he is part Maltese and part poodle. The best guess is Max was born in November last year.

Max currently has his service-dog license and, when he is old enough, Salmans hopes he will earn his therapy-dog certification.

"Max is already very social and enjoys his time here as much our elders enjoy his company," Salmans commented. "We even take him on some of our outings into the community."

This isn’t Salmans’ first foray into working with a service dog. A few years ago, she was training another animal for the long-term-care setting.

"I got Luci when she was 8 weeks old; it broke my heart when we lost her," Salmans recalled. "It took me a while, but I am glad I am doing this again.

"I believe in the power of healing when it comes to animals for just about anyone. I hope other families will consider adopting a pet for themselves or a loved one who can use an ever-faithful companion."

Ryan Salinas, SunPorch administrator, said he is glad Salmans came up with the idea of having a furry friend visit the elders.

"It is really great having Max in our home," Salinas said. "When Gina brought the idea to me she was well prepared for the questions she knew I would ask. I am glad she was persistent.

"The elders here light up when Max comes around and they love his personality."