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PAW PRINTS Vol. 04 -- Wednesday February 5th, 2020

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PAW PRINTS - February 2020

Seniors get physical, mental benefits from companion animals -- Wednesday January 15th, 2020

Zodiak, the live-in cat at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes, poses for a photo in one of his favorite play areas just outside The Madison independent living center as resident Donna Zimmerman admires him from across the room. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

Seniors get physical, mental benefits from companion animals

Donna Zimmerman made an unexpected new friend as she moved into her room at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes late last summer: Mort, a big, chummy, black-and-white cat.

Mort greeted Zimmerman and her family at the door of the senior housing center on move-in day and proceeded to rub up against their legs and meow for scratches while they unloaded and unpacked boxes. Then, apparently tired from watching them do all that hard work, he made himself comfy and fell asleep, right on Zimmerman’s bed.

She didn’t mind it one bit. 

“I’ve always loved cats,” Zimmerman said with a smile Monday. Having Mort there that first day felt “just like a personal reception” for her.

Cats remind Zimmerman of her late husband and the life they spent together on their farm. He was a cat-lover, too, she fondly recalled, and they always had at least one fine feline running around the farm.

Cats bring back good memories for her. They provide entertainment. They’re a source of comfort. 

The same can be said for a lot of the residents at Ecumen — and the whole senior population in general. Research has shown that seniors benefit from the companionship and affection of pets in many ways

A quick Google search for “the health benefits of pets for seniors” pulls up 466 million results. Commonly cited benefits address both mental and physical health: Animals can help reduce stress, for example, as well as lower blood pressure. They’re also shown to lead to increased social interaction and physical activity.

Zodiak, relaxing at Ecumen on Monday, Jan. 13. His job at the assisted living and senior housing center, said Ecumen Executive Director Danielle Olson, "is to provide comfort to those who like him.” (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

Karin Haugrud, of the Fergus Falls-based Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging, recently submitted information on this topic to the Tribune.

“Doctors, social workers and other health care professionals believe companion animals are important in helping many people lead healthy, happy lives, especially elderly people,” Haugrud stated. “Many researchers are finding that the most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease — it's loneliness. Love is one of the most important health tonics we have, and pets are one of nature's best sources of love.” 

In addition to supplying companionship and affection, animals can also supply a sense of security and protection, she added. Pets make people laugh and divert their minds away from troubles. They also tend to broaden a person’s circle of friends and, through play and walks, encourage better health through exercise. Some pet programs at nursing homes are credited with enabling patients to reach out beyond their own pain and isolation and start caring about the world around them again. 

“What we know, industry-wide, is that pets offer a little bit more comfort to our residents,” said Danielle Olson, executive director of Ecumen. “A lot of people had pets when they were at home, and that’s one of the things they miss when they come here.”

Ecumen welcomes visiting pets, and is a part-time home to Mort, who lives with an Ecumen employee but sometimes visits the campus during the day, and a full-time home to Zodiak, a live-in cat. Since Ecumen’s multiple buildings are all connected, the cats are able to wander from place to place, visiting whomever they want, whenever they want.

“He might be at the nursing home for a short period of time, then to adult day services, then he might go over to one of the apartment buildings, and then he makes his way back,” Olson said of Zodiak. “His job is to provide comfort to those who like him.”

Ecumen adopted Zodiak from the Marshmallow Foundation animal shelter in the fall of 2018. Since then, several residents have volunteered to help take care of him, feeding him and cleaning his litter box. Some try to lure him to their rooms for extra cuddle time by leaving little treats, water and toys outside their doors.

“Sometimes taking a little bit of ownership is something our residents appreciate,” Olson said. 

She described Zodiak as “a very fun personality of a cat” who “really brings a lot of smiles and joy to people.”

While he’s independent and likes to wander all over at his own pace, he seems to have a good sense of where he’s most wanted — and needed, she said. And Mort is the same way.

“We’ve had a lot of people at the end of life who have had a visit from one of the cats,” Olson said. “They’ve said the cat went in and crawled into their bed with them and really provided a lot of peace and comfort. That’s come up a number of times in the last few months. The cat senses that there's a change and provides comfort to the family and the residents.”

Health benefits of pets for seniors

  • Better relaxation

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Less chance of depression and loneliness

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased social interaction

  • Improved memory recall

  • Eased anxiety and pain

  • Longer life

Compiled from various sources, including

Things seniors should consider before getting a pet

  • Caring for an animal takes dedication. Be sure you have the time and means to take care of an animal, both physically and financially.

  • Think about which kind of pet would be best for you. Animal care professionals often advise seniors to consider adopting an adult dog or cat. An older animal may be a better fit for your lifestyle than a puppy or kitten.

  • Don't take a pet because someone else feels you should have one. 

  • Don't let well-meaning but overly protective friends or relatives convince you that you should not have a pet. You know better then anyone else what you want and what your abilities are. 

Info from the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging

PAW PRINTS Vol. 03 -- Wednesday January 1st, 2020

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PAW PRINTS - January 2020

PAW PRINTS Vol. 02 -- Sunday December 1st, 2019

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PAW PRINTS - December 2019

Goodbye Marshmallow Foundation, hello Marshmallow Animal Shelter -- Sunday November 24th, 2019

While Santa waits, his helper, Karen Skoyles, works with a family getting ready to take pet photos at an open house Saturday at the Marshmallow Animal Shelter. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Goodbye Marshmallow Foundation, hello Marshmallow Animal Shelter

Written By:  Nathan Bowe  | 
Here’s something to chew on: The Marshmallow Foundation in Detroit Lakes is now the Marshmallow Animal Shelter.

The name change is only fitting, since it better describes what the not-for-profit operation actually does: take care of lost and abandoned dogs and cats, and either reunite them with their owners or find new homes for them.

The Marshmallow Animal Shelter also serves as the local pound and, so far this year, 500 cats and dogs have passed through the shelter and gone back to their owners or found new forever homes, according to Shelter Manager Cassi Ohman. There are now about 90 healthy, fixed, loving felines waiting for adoption there, along with about 15 healthy, fixed people-friendly dogs.

“Our mission statement is ‘improving our community by reuniting the lost and advocating for the unwanted,’” said board member Karen Skoyles. “We thought that pretty much sums up what we do as the pound, trying to reunite the animals that have gotten away with the people that love them,” or find them now homes when that doesn’t work out, she said.

The new name for the shelter was announced at an open house Saturday, Nov. 23.

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A Crush Of Kitties-DL-Online -- Saturday October 5th, 2019

Connie Hammes cuddles with Kalani, one of the 80-plus feline residents at the Marshmallow Foundation, in this March photo. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

A crush of kitties: Shelters are full in Detroit Lakes and around the area

Written By:  Nathan Bowe  | 

If you have room for an extra kitty or two, now is a good time to act: Animal shelters in Detroit Lakes and around the area are full, with long waiting lists, and adoption costs are low.

At the Humane Society of the Lakes, it’s cat craziness -- the pet shelter is stretched to capacity with friendly kitties waiting to be adopted, and there’s a long waiting list of people with cats and kittens waiting for room to open up at the shelter.

“We have 25 cats ready to go home today,” Shelby Rasmussen, development coordinator for the Humane Society of the Lakes, said Thursday, Oct. 3. Another 10 are isolated in a room at the shelter until they recover from respiratory illness. And there are 82 cats and kittens on the waiting list to get into the shelter when space opens up.

The shelter has a maximum capacity of 35 cats.

For some reason, “we’re seeing larger litters than usual -- we’re looking at eight to 10 kittens in a litter,” shelter manager Amber Sund said.

People on the waiting list are caring for cats, often mamas with large litters of kittens, in garages and outbuildings that won’t work well for winter shelter, Sund said. When room opens up at the shelter, they usually bring in whole litters, not just a solitary cat or two.

The cats at the Humane Society are friendly and domesticated, not wild or feral, and many of them are playful kittens, Rasmussen said.

The crush of cats is unusual, and it’s not just a problem in Detroit Lakes, she said.

“There are so many more than normal, and it’s not just us that are seeing this -- Cat’s Cradle (animal shelter) in Fargo is full, too,” Rasmussen said.

The Marshmallow Foundation in Detroit Lakes is “buried,” said employee Connie Hammes. “The last time I counted, I think we have 89 cats.”

The cats there are friendly and loving. It’s hard not to visit without wanting to take one home.

On top of that, she said, “we have people calling in every day with more cats, and there’s no place we can send them -- we have all sorts of rescue friends and they’re all full. They have 220 cats in care at Cat’s Cradle. That’s a lot for them.” It’s unusual for shelters across the area to be full at the same time, she said.

The Marshmallow Foundation has a $50 adoption fee for cats right now, and they come spayed or neutered, vaccinated and tested for feline immunodeficiency virus.

The easiest way to adopt is to fill out an online application (paper applications are also available). Once it is approved, you can make an appointment, Hammes said.

“I get a lot of calls from people looking to surrender their cats. Sometimes they say they’re going to shoot them or drown them,” Hammes said. “If they have stray cats, we just don’t have a place for them -- we ask that they take care of them until there is a place for them.”

In the end, the solution is better birth control for the cat population.

“We just preach spay and neuter, spay and neuter,” she said.

Can you help?

ANIMAL SHELTER: To sweeten the deal for people thinking about taking home a kitty, the Humane Society of the Lakes is running a $65 adoption special through the end of this month. The $65 pays for spaying or neutering, microchip identification and vaccination shots, Development Coordinator Shelby Rasmussen said. “They get much more than $65 worth of stuff,” she said. “Let’s get these cats a home before the snow flies.”

Visit the shelter at 19665 US Highway 59, Detroit Lakes; email; call 218-847-0511; or go to

MARSHMALLOW FOUNDATION: The foundation has a $50 adoption fee for cats right now, and they come spayed or neutered, vaccinated and tested for feline immunodeficiency virus.

Visit 1478 Mallard St., Detroit Lakes; email; call 218-847-9040; or to to

Link to article on DL-Online:

It's raining cats (but not dogs) at DL shelter. - DL-Online -- Thursday August 24th, 2017

It's raining cats (but not dogs) at DL shelter

Rescued Kitten Now Thriving! - DL-Online -- Thursday November 10th, 2016

Rescued by DL resident from city yard waste dump when barely a week old, infant kitten is now thriving

DL-Online -- Wednesday August 26th, 2015

Parrot Heads are hosting 2 fundraisers this weekend in DL

DL-Online -- Saturday August 1st, 2015

Crazy Daze sale in DL set for Tuesday

DL-Online -- Wednesday July 22nd, 2015

Pets available to adopt at the Marshmallow shelter in DL

DL-Online -- Wednesday July 1st, 2015

Too many pets wait a long time to be adopted

DL-Online -- Friday June 26th, 2015

Clothing drive to benefit vets, pets

DL-Online -- Sunday May 17th, 2015

Pine Point students hold fun-run to raise money for stray animals

DL-Online -- Sunday March 15th, 2015

Local animal shelters need donations

Pioneer Press -- Friday December 19th, 2014

Stray dog Barbie Jo finds a family - and three hearts rejoice


The Gould family got a Barbie as an early Christmas present.

Click on Barbie's photo below to read the full story.


Pioneer Press -- Friday November 7th, 2014

Barbie Jo spent 3 years at a pound. Today, she's free - but still homeless.

Barbie Jo's story starts on Main Avenue in Frazee, Minn., a small town between Detroit Lakes and Perham in Becker County.   Click on Barbie's photo below to read the full story.