Tonka the Great Dane is spreading love in Austin, Texas.

By Haven Orecchio-Egresitz / Insider.com
March 23, 2020
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Tonka the Great Dane therapy dog and Courtney Leigh, of Austin Texas, visit the residents of local nursing homes each week.

During the coronavirus pandemic many nursing homes have started to prohibit visitors, so Leigh had to get creative about how Tonka could continue to cheer up the residents. Last week, the team decided to stand outside the windows of one local nursing home so they could enjoy the massive dog's company from afar.

"He has brought so much joy," Tonka's trainer, Courtney Leigh, told local station KXAN. "We learned that with the recent events all therapy visits will be discontinued for safety purposes, of course, and containment. We really missed our visits, and I thought, what can I do personally, on my own, to try and continue some of the feelgood that this wonderful dog gives to everyone?"

With the pandemic having cut off many seniors from the outside world, some are concerned about what the isolation will do to the mental and physical health of nursing home residents.

Leigh plans to walk outside the Cedar Pointe nursing home with Tonka as much as she can while the facility isn't accepting visits.

Debi Krakar, who is the Executive Director of the Dog Alliance, which certified Tonka and over 17o other teams, said that she can relate to Leigh's desire to spread joy, but that she didn't approve of their recent nursing home visit.

Older people and those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for dying from the coronavirus, and Krakar wants her teams to practice social distancing at this time.

"We appreciate Courtney's spirit of wanting to bring joy to others through the power of our connection with dogs," she said. "However, as the leader of 175 certified therapy dog teams, we don't want to encourage others to do the same since seniors are so vulnerable to the coronavirus."