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Man’s (And Woman’s) Best Friend at Monarch Landing

He suits up and comes to work for a traditional Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. shift. He loves his work, which he takes very seriously. And he’s easily motivated by food; especially but not limited to bacon. Monarch Landing employee Journey, is a three-year old German shepherd, chocolate lab and golden retriever mix, who works full-time as a therapy dog at the retirement community in Naperville.

Journey legally belongs to Melissa Hegg, human resources assistant at Monarch Landing. He emotionally however, belongs to all of the residents of the retirement community in Naperville, who eagerly anticipate his visits each day. “I take him home every night and weekends, but he works every second that I do,” Melissa said.

Melissa, who has worked at Monarch Landing for a year, attended Bradley University, and volunteered with the campus group Wags for Mags, a branch of Paws Giving Independence. The Peoria –based service dog training organization utilized Bradley students to help train and acclimate prospective therapy dogs for their future work. Journey who had been a stray, was living in a shelter in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and evaluated for potential therapy dog training. Many of the therapy dogs are rescue animals who have been living in a shelter. “Our motto is ‘saving a life to change a life,” said Melissa. She fostered Journey during her senior year, teaching him skills including obedience, switching lights on and off, tugging on door handles, picking up dropped items, helping pull off jackets and more.

Melissa brought Journey to Monarch Landing to visit, and everyone fell immediately in love with the beautiful and sweet animal. “We decided to apply to Paws Giving Independence for a facility dog which is a therapy dog that works in a specific location. They knew that Journey would be well taken care of and of great service at Monarch Landing, so approved the application,” said Melissa.

Journey splits up his workday. He starts out in the independent living community at Monarch Landing, where he hangs out with Melissa. In the afternoon, he heads over to healthcare at The Springs at Monarch Landing where he visits residents in assisted living memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. There, he is with Kylie Edmonds, the life enrichment assistant. “When he’s with me, it takes twice as long to do things because we get stopped all of the time by residents who want to pet him,” she said. When Kylie runs an activity, Journey joins her and graciously accepts loving attention from the participants. Kylie will also take him to visit residents’ rooms, especially those who are less inclined to come and join group activities. “The residents get a lot of enjoyment from seeing him,” she said.

The benefits of time with dogs are measurable, said Melissa. “Our objective is to improve the lives of the residents. Medical studies show that petting dogs lowers blood pressure, improves mental well-being and brings great pleasure to individuals.”

Kylie said that Journey’s presence is particularly beneficial to residents who might not have brought their dogs to live at Monarch Landing, and miss having their own pets. “They miss having that animal companionship,” said Kylie.

While it’s not unusual having dogs visit retirement communities, a full-time therapy dog is unique. “This is so much better. People feel that they have ownership in Journey as opposed to having random dogs come in and visit. And he knows the residents. They like being remembered and they feel ownership,” said Kylie.

Journey appreciates knowing the residents in general, with a decided preference for those he remembers have treats for him. “There are residents who tend to stash their breakfast bacon for him,” said Kylie. “And he knows where different residents keep treats in their rooms. When he visits, he’ll be polite and first greet the resident, but then head straight for their stash.”

Melissa said that Journey’s work vest, which identifies him as a therapy dog, determines his behavior. “When his vest is off, he’s a family pet. He’s a dog, and it’s playtime. When the vest is on, he knows he’s in work mode and he focuses. “

Journey seems grateful to have such a great job. “Residents will always comment that he seems to be smiling. His tail is almost never down. He gives so much love and gets so much love. There’s not much more he can ask for,” said Melissa.

Monarch Landing is a continuing care retirement community located on a scenic campus in Naperville, Illinois-named “one of America’s best places to live and retire” by Modern Maturity, and “the best city for early retirement” by Kiplinger. Monarch Landing offers independent living, promoting a vibrant life style for active seniors. The Springs at Monarch Landing offers assisted living memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, thus providing complete continuing care for seniors. Monarch Landing is owned by Senior Care Development and managed by Life Care Services. For additional information visit or

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