By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - It's almost lunchtime at The Gardens of Port St. Lucie, a senior living community, and one resident moves quietly from person to person, eliciting smiles.
The cheer-spreader is called Diva, because she is a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever who was rescued from the Humane Society of St. Lucie County in August. She is now a full-time resident of the community, formerly known as Brighton Gardens of Port St. Lucie.
"She was five days away from being euthanized," said Keri Salas, the director of sales and marketing. "When we found that out, we knew we had to have her."
After Diva was initially selected, the humane society brought the dog to the community, in a type of trial run, to see how she would fit in.
"Volunteers from the humane society even offered to come and work with, train her, if she needed it," Ms. Salas said. "That was wonderful for them to offer, and we were lucky that we didn't need it. Diva is a great dog."
Now, Diva is on duty 24 hours a day, and splits her time between the assisted living side and the skilled nursing side. There's even a doggie door that allows her to go into the enclosed courtyard.
"She has a great temperament," said John Eastman, the executive director. "She never barks. It is a perfect fit."
There is currently a pet policy that allows residents to own small animals. But having a dog that essentially belonged to everyone seems to brighten everyone's day.
"There are so many stories of who Diva has cheered up," said Mr. Eastman. "For example, one resident spoke very little. Now they make the trip around the building, and ask where Diva is. They even talk more about other subjects. We call Diva our 'pet therapist.'"
Diva wasn't the first canine to grace the halls. It was just a short while ago that Sandy, who was also rescued from the humane society, recently retired.
"She was 15 years old, and she tried so hard to walk around all day, but you could tell it was tiring for her," Ms. Salas said. "We had an employee take her home to live out her days on his farm."
After Sandy's retirement, the decision was quickly made to adopt another dog, thanks to the insistence of 10-year resident Dorothy Daino, 90.
"We needed a dog," she said. "They add a lot to a life."
As she spoke, Diva came and laid her head in Ms. Daino's lap, and she gently rested her hand on the dog's head.
"I think she's great," Ms. Daino said. "It takes a good disposition that would accept all these people with all these personalities."