Find out how Amie McGraham combined her love of animals with her loving care for her mother — and made a difference in the community.
When Amie McGraham started volunteering at the Foothills Animal Rescue in Scottsdale, Arizona, she worried about coming home with all the animals. But as her relationship with the shelter grew, so did her vision for reaching others in the surrounding community. And some of those “others” were living in a private community Amie knew well.
Always an animal lover, Amie, a former vice president in the insurance industry, had done some virtual volunteering for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary while her mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. But as the disease advanced, Amie made the huge decision to move her mother from Maine to Arizona (after years of long distance caregiving). Soon, she connected with Foothills Animal Rescue, which prompted yet another connection: bringing the local shelter in contact with the small, close-knit memory care community her mother now called home.
After bringing two dogs to visit her mom as part of her volunteer work, Amie approached the community’s executive director with an idea. They discussed a number of options for engagement, and Amie worked with Foothills to pilot a program in memory care, which would eventually launch in assisted living and the larger senior living community.
The first dog who came for a one-hour visit was Quincy, a five-month-old assorted breed puppy and part of Foothills’ “Dog of the Day” program, an initiative that encouraged shelter adoptions. Amie’s mom walked her. He didn’t pull, and he gave everyone kisses. The visit was a success.
Residents at the memory care community enjoyed these short visits tremendously, but Amie wanted to do more than just pet therapy. She wanted to give her Mom a sense of purpose, to help her feel valued in the midst of dementia’s unraveling. Her next step? Bringing her mom along to volunteer with her. And she didn’t stop there: Amie made her mom co-captain of a new community engagement project that’s currently underway — and growing — in Scottsdale.
Now, Amie’s mom visits the shelter once a month, walking dogs, giving tours, assisting Amie with other tasks — and all the while, proudly wearing her red volunteer shirt. The shirt is a concrete visual reminder of this new identity, and it gives Amie’s mom something she can hold onto when the depression and deterioration of dementia scatters her thoughts and words. She also gets to enjoy the beautifully renovated Foothills facility, and to experience life outside the four walls of her memory care community. Above all, she gets to spend time with her daughter in a different way — not just as “caregiver” and “care receiver.”
We tend to focus on daily care tasks — manage meds & healthcare, bathe & dress, pick up groceries — and can easily get swallowed up in their monotony and in their stress (because caregivers of all ages know: none of those tasks are typically easy). We’re often too emotionally and physically spent at the end of the day to think beyond surviving the next one.
How can we find ways to give the loved ones in our care a sense of purpose, meaning, and identity — beyond just meeting their ‘daily grind’ needs?– Michelle Seitzer
But when we give ourselves some time to breathe, give ourselves space to think outside the daily to-do boxes, perhaps we can discover something new like Amie did. A way to combine our passions outside of caregiving with the daily grind of caregiving. To find ways to give something to our loved ones that fosters a sense of purpose, meaning, and identity — beyond just caring for them.
Today, Amie’s initial idea has expanded into three wonderful programs — Yappy Trails, Yappy Care, and Yappy Yoga — all of which are enhancing the lives of dogs and cats, shelter workers and volunteers, prospective pet parents, memory care residents like Amie’s mom, and the family caregivers who love them.
Caregiving calls us to do things we never imagined, into a role we may never have chosen. But it also calls us into finding ways we can grow creatively in that role — and to do something that changes us, our loved one, and maybe even an entire community.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Amie, and thanks for the ways you’ve imagined a creative caregiving approach that has brought joy to so many humans and four-legged friends in the Scottsdale community! You can read about Amie’s caregiving journey at This Demented Life.