Gene and Louise Winningham, of Shelby Township, hold the dog they adopted during the pandemic, Buddy.

Gene and Louise Winningham, of Shelby Township, hold the dog they adopted during the pandemic, Buddy.

Photo provided by Ed Kral

Amid pandemic, Shelby Township seniors find silver lining in dog, return home

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 13, 2021


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns approaches, foremost in people’s memories will be the devastating reality of the past 12 months with lives lost, jobs lost, economic declines and emotional strain.

For some seniors, it was a time of isolation and confusion, while for others, it offered some silver linings in the form of new opportunities and arrangements that made them more comfortable.

Gene and Louise Winningham, of Shelby Township, moved back home from a senior living facility during the pandemic to be in a safer environment for Gene, who lives with dementia. This was not a negative for them, because it also meant they could get a dog, something Gene has long wanted.

With the help of a caregiver, Gene and Louise adopted a puppy named Buddy.

Gene and Louise moved to a senior facility from their home just before the pandemic began and lived there for approximately one year until they moved back to their home in Shelby Township.

Louise said that life changed when the pandemic hit at the senior facility.

“When the pandemic hit, we know everyone was confined to their small apartment (with) no visitors, no leaving the buildings,” she said.

She said it was difficult to adjust to the changes.

“It was difficult to adjust to wearing a mask and not being able to hear people talking through a mask,” she said.

She said the masks fogged up her glasses, and it was hard to tell how people felt because a big part of communication is facial expressions. Also, not being able to go to doctor’s appointments with her husband was a big challenge.

Gene said there was so much restriction and no social life due to the pandemic.

Louise said she had to use texting and Facetime to stay in touch with her family, but she had learned how to do that before the pandemic.

Now that the Winninghams are living at home with a caregiver, they were able to get Buddy and have more space.

“We have the space to spread out. I have a garden and a kitchen big enough to can. I can cook what I want, and home is home,” she said.

Buddy is a cavalier King Charles spaniel and was 8 months old when the couple got him. He is now 8 months old.

“He brought my husband so much joy. Both of us, really, but seeing Gene happy just makes me so happy. He entertains us, and he’s just brought so much life to the house,” said Louise.

Gene said he always wanted to get a dog but never had one before Buddy.

“It was a dream come true. He’s a new member of the family. He’s my Buddy,” he said.

Getting the puppy was made possible for Gene and Louise because their caregiver was able to help whenever it was needed.

“She was quicker with potty trips during the training time,” Louise said.

They are thankful they could return home and that they were able to get Buddy, especially during a year of many challenges and changes.

“We’re very happy and functioning well at home. We wouldn’t change it. We love him. He brings so much fun and life to the party. We plan to remain in this situation as long as we live,” said Louise.

Kerry Pareja, owner, Shelby Township Home Instead, said this is an example of a positive thing that has come out of long a year that has thrown many challenges in seniors’ ways.

“While the past year has been incredibly challenging — especially for the aging population — we’ve also seen stories of resilience and connection. These silver linings offer some positives in what felt like a dark year and give hope for even better days ahead. Being able to break through the pandemic’s isolation has seniors feeling much more hopeful about the year ahead. Some area seniors have created deeper connections with loved ones and found new ways to stay in touch, especially by using technology,” she said.