Therapy Dog Visits Nursing Home Windows in Texas During Coronavirus

Meet Tonka, the Great Dane therapy dog who won't let the coronavirus pandemic keep him from spreading joy.

The coronavirus has everyone doing their best to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another—especially older people who are at a higher risk of becoming gravely ill from COVID-19. Unfortunately, for many nursing homes, that means canceling beloved programs like therapy dog visits. But Tonka, a Great Dane therapy dog in Texas, just couldn't stay away from his friends at the Cedar Pointe Health and Wellness Suites in the Lone Star State.

"We learned that, with the recent events, all therapy visits will be discontinued for safety purposes, of course, and containment," Courtney Leigh, Tonka's owner, told KXAN News, a local NBC News affiliate. "We really missed our visits and I thought, 'What can I do personally, on my own, to try and continue some of the "feel-good" that this wonderful dog gives to everyone?'"

And so, Leigh decided to continue Tonka's visits, just from outside the nursing home's windows.

Tonka therapy dog in car
Photo courtesy of KXAN News

Leigh thought that—even though Tonka can't visit the residents inside—taking the therapy dog around to the elderly folks' windows might be a different way to bring them joy.

Leigh even walks around with a sign that says "We Miss You" in large, purple letters. And residents have taken to creating their own "Tonka, I miss you" signs back.

Courtney Leigh holding we miss you sign for residents
Photo courtesy of KXAN News

"Certainly it's a safe space, with the window as a barrier, just walking around the outside," Leigh said. "So we're so excited to be able to just make [the residents] smile."

For all of the joy Tonka's been spreading, the lovable Great Dane was recognized as the "Hero of the Day" on the Today show on Thursday.

And for the time being, Leigh says she plans to take Tonka on these window visits as much as she can while the nursing home remains closed to visitors.

There have been multiple instances of people—not just pups—doing their best to let their loved ones in nursing homes know they're thinking about them. Bob Shellard, for example, celebrated his 67th anniversary with his wife at a nursing home in Connecticut with a sweet sign outside her window that read, "I've loved you 67 years and still do."

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