Visitors to Silverado-Orchard Park are likely to be greeted by a dog named Eli as they walk through the front door. The Labrador mix pooch is a fixture at the facility just north of Chicago after he was adopted from a rescue where he’d been surrendered for having separation anxiety.

Eli is living the good life now because he’s in a place where he never has to be alone again – he has people around him day and night. And he is always happy to see new faces as they enter the facility.

Such is life at Silverado — providing care to residents and animals alike. In fact, it is not unusual to see dogs and cats on the premises serving as companions for residents. At Orchard Park, where all residents have memory care needs, there also are guinea pigs, a fish tank, a rabbit and several species of birds to round out the menagerie.

While it’s true that pets aren’t really germane to a facility’s design, the Silverado model incorporates animals as part of its physical environment. They are as much as part of a property as walls, furnishings and décor. Why? Because all of these elements are intended to improve the quality of residents’ lives and pets have proven to be a huge positive at Orchard Park, says Administrator Samantha Johnson.

“We want to treat residents as adults and having animals and children here helps them with blood pressure,” Johnson says, adding children also are welcome at the facility. “Having a rabbit on your lap can help you relax. I’ve seen this firsthand.”

Besides Eli the resident dog, Silverado-Orchard Park has three other dogs that are part of the environment: Maggie, a Jack Russell terrier mix; Bella, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; and Mobley, a Cocker Spaniel. They make up Johnson’s dog “pack” and accompany her to work every day. It is not uncommon to see them sitting on furniture or riding the elevators from floor to floor. Two felines – Gladys and Betty Boop – also have become residents of the second floor, after being adopted from a nearby animal shelter. 

Letting animals roam free in a facility where vulnerable elderly people are living may seem like a risky situation, setting up instances where residents could fall or sustain pet-related injuries, and Johnson acknowledges that the risk does exist. Even so, the Silverado philosophy is that the benefits brought by animals far outweigh the risks.

“We believe that love is greater than fear,” she says about a tenet that extends throughout the corporation. “Worry about something negative happening comes from the fear side. But from the love side, it is about how residents light up when they see a dog, cat or a child. Having animals around makes their experience here more normal. Many of these people had animals in their homes before they came here.”

Silverado-Orchard Park has four floors and 56 residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Silverado purchased the facility in July 2013 as part of a three-property acquisition in the northern Illinois-southern Wisconsin region.