A gift of love and support given this Valentine’s Day to military veterans in memory care in two Houston facilities is living proof that small gestures often have a big impact. 

In what the Texas Gulf Coast Region of the American Red Cross calls “Operation Animal Love,” veterans in the middle and later stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia were given therapy pets, life-like robotic kittens and puppies. Adorned with Red Cross bandanas sewn by a sixth-grade 4-H’er in Shawnee, Oklahoma, these robotic pets have been shown to be effective in decreasing stress and agitation, as well as providing the patients with responsibility, caring and structure. On Feb. 14, 28 therapy pets went to veterans living at the Richard A. Anderson Texas State Veterans Home and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, both in Houston. 

“These therapy pets are calming, soothing, and bring the patients back to a time in their lives when they felt useful and had a sense of purpose,” said Kimberly Knights, Red Cross regional Services to the Armed Forces manager and director. She noted that the robotic pets mimic many of the same acts performed by their real-life counterparts.  

“It’s just like a real pet,” Knights said. “The dogs bark, they sleep. When you pet the back of the pup’s head, they get happy and their tails move.” Unlike pet therapy programs that use live animals, the robotic therapy pets get to stay with the veterans all the time. “They provide a lot of love and affection these veterans need.” 

Grace Hobbs shows off a bear wearing a bandana she made for the Texas Gulf Coast Red Cross.

Another simple act of kindness and public service was provided by 12-year-old Grace Hobbs of Shawnee, Oklahoma. At the suggestion of her uncle, Texas Gulf Coast Region Chief Operating Officer Jake Peters, Grace took to her sewing machine and created Red Cross bandanas for each of the therapy pets. She took on the challenge as a service project for her 4-H club – which is nothing new for the North Rock Creek Elementary student.  

“She has had a really big heart for people from a very young age,” said her mother, Charity Hobbs. Earlier service projects have included donating her hair to “Locks of Love” to make life-like wigs for cancer patients. Grace also has been sewing face masks during the pandemic for nurses, friends and family. She also makes Christmas decoration and Valentine’s cards for patients at a nursing home.  “It just makes me feel good that that’s her heart talking to you,” her mother said. 

Story by David Guth