How a micro mini cow is helping patients in Arizona memory care facilities

Animals have been used for decades for various therapies, and one Gilbert woman is now using - for the very first time - a mini cow to help residents in memory care facilities.

"It started [as] a passion project for myself, just because I like to give back," said Karin Boyle with the Dolly Star Foundation. "Now it has become so much bigger because, like, it's helped so many people.

Most days, one can find Karin Boyle behind the chair at her salon. Her love and passion for all things hair is now being shared with her new 3-month-old, 85-pound bundle of joy: Miss Dolly Star.

Dolly is a micro mini American White Park cow, and she's no pet. She's the first therapy animal of her kind.

Dolly Star

Dolly Star

"She was meant for this," Boyle said. "Even the breeders in South Dakota said from the very beginning - she's like, ‘She is really sweet.' She loves the attention."

Early this year, Karin had a close connection to Alzheimers in her family. She spent some time in a few memory care facilities and saw a need.

Boyle grew up on a dairy farm in Arizona and quickly realized many of the people she interacted with at the facilities were also involved with agriculture in their younger years. 

She thought, what better way to bring back some of those fond memories than by bringing the farm to the people?

"We had a neighbor that his wife had Alzheimer’s and has grown up on a dairy farm, and she had memories of her childhood that she hasn’t had in over six years," said Boyle. "It literally brings tears to my eyes, like if you can help that one person, it makes everything so much better."

Karin, her daughter Ella and volunteer Hayden Davidson bring Dolly to memory care facilities about twice a week.

"I think a lot of people just like to stare at her," Boyle said. "I’m gonna be honest…there’s something about her - they just watch her eat her cud, you know, like she’s just a cute animal. They can brush her, they pet her sometimes."

Daughter Ella says she loves how friendly Dolly is.

"She'll play with me in the backyard, but when it's time to get to her job, she's super calm and friendly," Ella said.

The residents light up when they see Miss Dolly coming through the door. She just "moooves" right in and makes some friends.

"It gives them purpose, it takes them back," said Joey French, VP of operations at Park Senior Villas. "It’s something really fulfilling for them and fulfilling for us because we get to see the smiles on their faces."

Karin is hoping to continue putting smiles on faces with the help of Miss Dolly. She's also hoping to help keep good memories coming back while creating new ones.

"Everybody’s been sheltered in their own little situation [because of COVID]," Boyle said. "Somebody just said, like, ‘You just made my day right,’ just because I walked a cow down the street. We hear it all the time."

Boyle hopes to get more volunteers and donations to buy a transport vehicle to be able to visit more facilities.

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