Retirement home residents 'so happy' after being visited by zoo's penguins as part of animal therapy programme

Animal magic cast a spell over the residents of a senior citizens’ village, who received a special boost after the gloomy Covid barriers when they were asked to pick up TWO penguins ppp!

When Richmond Villages Witney’s activity director Joanna Cambrey, 59, found a great way to make people smile in the Oxfordshire retirement community during a brainstorming session this month, staff at a nearby zoo were happy to help.

Joanna was overjoyed when the keepers of the Heythrop Zoological Gardens in nearby Chipping Norton brought the Humboldt penguins Charlie (25) and their younger buddy Groot to visit the senior village as part of the animal therapy program.

When she gave the residents a screening of the penguin film Happy Feet that morning, no one suspected that their VIP guests would be two of the fabulous water birds.

Joanna, who lives in Witney with her 21-year-old daughter Megan, who works with her on the animation team, recalled the moment the adorable couple waddled into the residents’ lounge: “It was really amazing.

“We have all kinds of animal therapies in Richmond Villages, but penguin therapy is a first.”

She added, “The residents were so happy. It was a fantastic day. “

Joanna, who has been working in the senior citizens’ village since it opened in November 2016, organizes an incredible variety of activities to improve the lives of residents – from wine tasting to parrot visits.

“It’s a real community here,” she said.

She added, “I think there are around 200 people living here and we organize events for everything.

“We do quizzes, themed evenings, I even organized wine and gin tasting evenings, which were always very popular.

“We also do a lot of animal therapy with dogs and even had a real reindeer visit at Christmas, as it helps many residents with psychological and physical complaints.”

A lightbulb moment during the brainstorming for the autumn activity program at the beginning of October this year – after she was inspired by another nursing home – then gave Joanna the idea of ​​bringing VIPs or very important penguins with her.

“I saw another nursing home in 2019,” she explained.

“I thought it was going to be so fun and so unusual.”

She added, “Covid was particularly tough on residents as they couldn’t see loved ones and our activities were restricted by restrictions, so the timing was perfect.

“We wanted to do something exciting and I thought it would be awesome – and it was.”

After Joanna got the green light from the nursing home manager, Joanna excitedly called the zoo and asked if she could borrow some penguins for the day – and to her surprise, they agreed.

“It all happened very quickly,” she explained.

“I called Heythrop Zoological Gardens and they were absolutely fantastic. They said they would like to help.

“It was so easy to organize, we just booked an appointment and they came.”

12 days after the idea hatched, after seeing Happy Feet and eating penguin cookies, residents couldn’t believe their eyes when two real penguins waddled out of the elevator on Oct. 12.

“We played Happy Feet in the morning and handed out penguin biscuits, but no one could guess who our VIP guests were,” laughed Joanna.

“Some people thought it was Boris or the Queen, but luckily no one got the hint.”

The residents were thrilled to pick up a penguin

She added, “When Charlie and Groot waddled out of the elevator, the transformation of the residents was amazing. Their faces were amazing.

“One said she never thought she was holding a real penguin – then Charlie was sitting right on her lap!”

And the penguins stepped into the spotlight like ducks in the water and found all the attention wonderful.

“You weren’t shy at all,” laughed Joanna.

“Charlie was really confident. He is an old man himself, at 25. He was very happy to sit on people’s laps and waddle up and down the corridor.

A penguin with the residents

“Groot was a bit more shy. He started pecking people’s fingers when they got a little too close. But one of the residents had an amazing idea to wave a scarf to get his attention. “

She added, “He went straight to it and was intrigued by it. They really settled in and the nursing home was full of excitement. “

While she thought the penguins were great, it was the joy they brought to the residents that really warmed Joanna’s heart.

“It was really amazing to see the change,” she said.

She added, “Local residents who are usually shy and don’t join in have really looked into the penguins. They started to come out of their shells and really interact. “

Spurred on by the success of the day, she firmly believes that there will be a continuation of the penguins’ visit.

“It was such a success that we will definitely be doing it again with the penguins,” she said.

She added, “However, it would be great to meet all sorts of different animals for the residents.

“Our next big trip will be to the Tower of London in November to see the Crown Jewels.

The staff played happy feet and served penguin cookies before the penguins arrived

“But I’m not sure if they’ll bring as much shine to people’s faces as Charlie and Groot.”

Resident Ivy Waller, 97, was certainly a huge fan.

She said, “I never thought I’d run into a penguin, especially at my age. You were adorable and I haven’t stopped smiling since then. “

Fran Vandelli, a dementia director at Richmond Villages, says penguin therapy has provided valuable support to residents suffering from dementia.

She said: “For people with dementia, communication difficulties can mean they shy away from social situations.

Joanna had the great idea of ​​using penguins as animal therapy

“In animals, however, the bond goes beyond verbal communication, which means that people are more comfortable and fully immersed in the experience.

“That’s just one of the reasons animal therapy sessions can be so powerful.”

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