Farmington teen and dog visit seniors each week

For the past year, Alex Burnham and Lucy, a 3-year-old Lab, have visited residents at a Farmington assisted living facility

Leigh Black Irvin
Alex Burnham waits with her dog, Lucy, before visiting residents at BeeHive Homes in Farmington on Tuesday.

FARMINGTON — A Farmington girl and her dog are making a big impression on residents at an assisted living community.

Thirteen-year-old Alex Burnham, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart Catholic School, recently won a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her work. She and her mother, Carly Burnham, will fly in May to Washington, D.C., for a series of national recognition events.

For the past year, Burnham and her mother have brought Lucy, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix from the Aztec Animal Shelter, to interact with the 12 residents at BeeHive Home, an assisted living facility in Farmington. The trio visits the home every Tuesday during the teenager's lunch hour.

Burnham started the visits as part of a project to earn her Girl Scout silver award. But even after earning the award, the weekly visits continued.

"I knew it was the right project for her because even when she's having a bad day, she still puts in the time to train Lucy — she really likes doing it," said the teenager's mom. "It's the volunteer project that just keeps on going."

Before Lucy could visit BeeHive Homes residents, she had to attend weekly obedience training. At the end of the 50-hour training, she earned a "Canine Good Citizenship" designation and was given the go-ahead to visit BeeHive residents.

"She had to learn to sit and get down when I tell her, and how to be alone with other people when I'm not there," said Alex Burnham. "She also had to get used to loud noises and learn to be calm around other dogs, and she can never bark or bite."

Burnham said she hopes to eventually have Lucy certified as therapy dog.

BeeHive Homes resident Irma Porter, left, pets service dog Lucy as she and her owner Alex Burnham visit residents on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Burnham walked with Lucy to several residents who smiled and pulled the dog close.

"When they approached me about the idea of bringing Lucy in, I thought, 'What's better than animals and kids?'" said Starla Thompson, activities director for the assisted living home. "It's good for the residents, and it's good for Alex. She and her mom also brought Valentine's Day cards for the residents last month. We've really formed a friendship with her."

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BeeHive resident Irma Porter looks forward to Lucy's visits. Porter loves dogs so much that she keeps photos and other dog-related items in her room, according to Thompson.

"I really like the dog," Porter said. "I would like to see her every day if I could."

To win the Prudential award, Burnham wrote a 750-word essay about her experience training Lucy and volunteering at the home.

"I got the results a couple of weeks ago and learned that in addition to the all expense paid trip for me and my mom to go to Washington, D.C., I get $1,000," she said. "I'll also get to do a service project while I'm there, passing out books to children and reading to them. I'm so excited."

The teen's mom was also awarded the Presidential Service Award and recently learned Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, honored her in the state Senate for her contributions to the community.

"We didn't even know about that until (Sharer) sent us the certificate," said Carly Burnham.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.