Animals provide a boost to Tamarisk residents


We love our pets! And they can help us heal, too.

It’s been documented that pets often offer therapeutic benefits to those around them. Specially trained therapy pets can provide directed comfort and solace, reduce anxiety, pain and stress, and boost mental health. These animals, and their humans, are usually trained to help people of all ages.

Therapy animals are often used in hospital settings and in memory-care units at long-term-care facilities. But that welcoming wag of a tail can make anyone smile.

At the Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence, in Warwick, executive director Roberta Ragge brings her dogs to work with her. They are trained to interact with the community’s residents to offer a bit of comfort and joy.

It’s one of several ways the pet-friendly community gets the therapeutic benefits of animals. While it's more common to see therapy animals in nursing homes than assisted-living, Ragge says the benefits are well-known for the elderly everywhere.

Ragge, who is an occupational therapist by training, has two Portuguese Water Dogs. Phelps is a certified therapy dog and works with the Renaissance memory support unit at Tamarisk. His son is a therapy-dog-in-training named Rownan.

“They are both wonderful dogs,” Ragge says.

Phelps is all black while Rowie is a black-and-white puppy. Both dogs have been coming to Tamarisk since they were quite young so they are accustomed to the residents, and to walkers that might startle other dogs. Ragge and Phelps meet with residents in formal groups once a week. And both dogs do one-on-one visits.

The residents love the dogs and the other animals that visit, Ragge said.

Before COVID-19, the Roger Williams Park Zoo, in Providence, and the ASPCA brought in animals for residents to enjoy. And residents are allowed to have pets under 30 pounds, including dogs, birds and fish, but not cats.

Ragge said there is a “codified bird sanctuary” area in the Renaissance memory unit that “residents really enjoy.” The bird feeders are supported by the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in Warwick. The lawn products are organic so the birds aren’t hurt.

“Animals create a hominess,” says Ragge. “They connect people to unconditional love and to nature.”

FRAN OSTENDORF  ( is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.

Tamarisk, pets