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Local memory care facilities come together for inaugural dog show

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By Deborah Swearingen

As each dog made its way to the judging table, 87-year-old Helen Lee James prepared her cues.

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“Out and back for me, please,” James said with authority.

James, the second woman to be named as American Kennel Club field representative, knows the ins and outs of the dog show business. And now that she is a resident at Highline Place, a Littleton memory care facility, she served as the primary judge during the inaugural dog show on July 26 at Willowbrook Place, a sister facility in South Jeffco.

Her experience showed, and it was clear James took the job seriously.

“She was a hoot,” said Lynn Peterson, whose mother is a resident at Willowbrook Place. “I loved it.”

After dutifully selecting a first-, second- and third-place winner, James said she had fun.

“I had a very good time,” she said.

“More people should examine their dogs in the atmosphere which is both casual and productive,” James added.

Prior to the show, residents from Highline Place, Willowbrook Place and Aurora’s Chelsea Place lined their chairs and wheelchairs under a welcoming archway of green and yellow balloons, eager to catch a glimpse of the 13 participating dogs. Preschool students from Primrose School of Bear Creek joined the memory care residents for last week’s event.

“Such a good dog,” said Elaine Kuttler, a resident at Highline Place, while petting Dakota, the therapy dog from her memory care facility.

“This is such a mixture of dogs. I think it is wonderful,” she later added with a smile.

The smiles are what it’s all about for Michael Porterfield, activities director at Willowbrook Place. Coordinating activities for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s is crucial, the local Anthem Memory Care facilities do so frequently. What better way to elicit smiles than to bring dogs and kids around?

“The benefit I get out of it is seeing everybody happy,” Porterfield said. “ … If I can see them happy, it makes my day.”

In addition to being an American Kennel Club representative, James raised poodles. Ultimately, a well-groomed black toy poodle — Special Agent Ziva D (named for an NCIS character) — took home the first-place prize.

“Oh, (it was) just wonderful,” her owner, Jamelae Arrell of Morrison said of the event. “We’re honored.”

Arrell enjoyed it so much that she plans to bring her poodles back for another event at Willowbrook Place. And last week’s dog show went so well, facility staff plan on making it a yearly tradition.