Max is a four-month-old, 22-pound therapy pig, affectionately known as the unofficial Buckner Hospice mascot.
Max began visiting Buckner Hospice patients in March when he and owner Nicole McPherson, Buckner Hospice administrator, earned their companion animal certification. The pig now also visits residents at Parkway Place senior living community, and plans to soon make trips to each Buckner community.
“The joy on these residents’ faces when they see Max is almost indescribable!” said Susan Phelps, executive director of Parkway Place. “Animals have a unique way of bringing out a childlike joy in senior adults, and to see them get so excited is truly heartwarming.”
Therapy pigs have proven to be a unique source of joy and comfort for senior living residents. As with any therapy animal, research shows they can help reduce anxiety and lessen symptoms of depression, particularly for seniors who have a history of working with or being around animals.
McPherson received Max as a gift when he was three weeks old and weighed just five pounds. Since then, she’s been training him as a therapy pig. He lives inside her family’s home, in a kennel, like any other household pet.
“He’s just like a dog, but smarter,” laughed McPherson. “He can sit, spin, kiss and shake hands. He’s quite the pig!”
McPherson keeps Max on a strict diet of fruits, vegetables and, as a special treat, Cheerios. She walks him in her neighborhood—on a leash—nearly every day. While he’s still growing, her goal is to keep him at a trim 50 to 60 pounds.
“The name Max means ‘one of a kind,’” McPherson said, “and Max is truly that to everyone who meets him, especially these senior adults.”