MANKATO, Minn. — Like many of the people to whom they bring cheer, Loren Clobes and Hunter, his therapy dog, move a bit slower than they did in their prime.
For more than seven years now, the Mankato man and his Labrador mix have been visiting nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Mankato, North Mankato and St. Peter.
Since Clobes retired from his manufacturing job five years ago, the pair has been providing little doses of animal therapy several days a week. Some weeks they go out every single day bringing a bit of merriment to the elderly and their caretakers.
"He loves people and people love him," Clobes told the Mankato Free Press during a recent visit to Hillcrest Rehabilitation Center.
Clobes, 72, and Hunter, 9, stopped in each of the center's community rooms for brief chats and pets with each of its amenable occupants.
In the memory care unit residents were gathered for a music class and after taking a break to greet Hunter, they said goodbye with a rendition of "How Much is that Doggie in the Window." Some days when their schedule is less tight, Clobes stays and sings along.
Clobes and his canine also stop by rooms of residents they haven't spotted out and about whom he knows wouldn't want to miss a chance to see Hunter.
"He's such a nice dog," said Gloria Ensign as she gives Hunter a few head scratches. "We haven't seen him in a while."
"We looked for you last time but you were in the dining room and we can't go in there," Clobes responded.
Clobes knows many of the residents by name. Many of the residents meanwhile know only one half of the pair by name.
"Hunter is the only name people remember and I'm OK with that," Clobes said.
In the few instances he doesn't recognize a resident and it isn't obvious from their greetings and big smiles, Clobes said he asks before approaching with Hunter.
"Most people love him but we know not everyone likes dogs and we want to be respectful," Clobes said.
Hunter was a stray and the rescue group that was caring for him was considering euthanasia before Loren Clobes and his wife, Michal Clobes, adopted him. Hunter had some behavioral issues that were scaring away potential adopters but the couple had a gut feeling he'd do better at their rural home south of Mankato where he'd have space to run.
They have owned numerous dogs over their more than 50 years together. It was soon clear to them that Hunter was special, Loren Clobes said.
Within hours of arriving at his new home, Hunter had figured out how to open the back door so he could go for a run and hunt for squirrels whenever he wished.
Once he had an outlet for his energy, Clobes said his smart Lab exhibited his true laid back and friendly personality that his owners thought would make him an ideal therapy dog.
"He's the most lovable dog we've ever had and that's why we're trying to share him," he said.
Lately Clobes has been contemplating scaling back his visits to a few days a week. But then he thinks about the smiles he'd be missing.
"The smiles on their faces — that's worth a lot. That's why we keep doing this," Clobes said.