Isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for many; for seniors in retirement homes, the strict limitations on visitors meant no in-person visits with family for months on end.
Watching that anguish gave personal care attendant Karley Morgan an idea: goats.
Specifically, Nigerian pygmy goats.
"I actually saw on social media that a man that I knew from Bay Roberts area was selling a couple of goats, and I thought, 'Well that would be a great thing to jump on, a great deal and great for the residents,'" said Morgan, who works at Heritage Square Retirement Living in Conception Bay South.
But the goats — their names are Tetley and Carnation — weren't the only animals Morgan brought in back in March.
"I had an extra bunny that I could spare, and we hatched out chickens in an incubator," said Morgan. "So all around it was an easy way and a fun way to bring them here."
There are now two rabbits, named Peter and Bunny, and five chickens for which the residents voted on the names: Polly, Molly, Dolly, Holly and Olly.
'Whatever she brings, I'll look after it'
Morgan's father owns the building, so he got to work setting up suitable quarters for the facility's newest residents — outside on a grassy patch — with shelters and things to climb on.
On days when she's not working, Morgan will stop by the home to check on the animals, but she's recruited talent from within the facility for most of the care.
Resident Menzel Petten is the go-to animal guru.
"She came and asked me if I'd like to look after some chickens, so she brought down five hens. And then she brought down a rabbit. Then she brought down two goats," Petten said with a laugh.
"Now what else is she gonna bring? I don't know. But whatever she brings I'll look after it."
Petten always took care of animals growing up — hens, goats, cows, horses and sheep — so it's nothing new to him. However, the arrivals have been a great addition at a time when things were pretty dark.
"It was great. I had something to do instead of sitting in our room all day long and watching TV. I loves it, to tell you the truth," he said. "I'd be gone nuts if I didn't, if I never had the animals to look after. I'd be goin' nuts."
Of course, the animals were a big hit with the other residents, too.
"I just love them, period," said Joan Wilson.
"They come over and they let you pet them and [it's a] really, really good feeling to be out with the animals, talking to the animals."
Nancy Warder visits the animals outside every day, and said they are a nice addition.
"Before we had visitors allowed here, my son and granddaughter would come drive by, and then my granddaughter would phone me and we could talk about the animals that she saw, about the new puppy she has and those things, so it gives us a lot to talk about," Warder said.
Now, she can join her family outside — from a safe social distance — to visit and feed the animals.
Warder said a lot of the residents, herself included, grew up with animals, and helping care for the creatures once again has reminded them of their younger days.
"It's wonderful, I think, for the residents because it brings back a lot of childhood and young memories for a lot of us, because many of us grew up with anima, especially farm animals," she said.
"We can talk about them with each other and especially like with rabbits there are a fair number of rabbit hunters in Newfoundland and Labrador and so that's great for people to recall those times when they could go out and create their own supper."
'A labour of love'
Morgan, meanwhile, said the response has been "incredible," and while she knew the animals would bring a nice change of scenery to the home, she didn't realize how big an impact they would have.
"I never thought that so much joy could come from such simple little animals. They're not the smartest things in the world, by my God, can they ever make someone smile," she said.
"It's really important for the residents to have something for their grandkids and their great-grandkids to be able to do with them, and look forward to going and seeing nan and pop at the retirement home … This gives them the connection to do something together."
In the winter months, Morgan will bring the animals to her family's farm where they can while away the cold season.
But next year, when it's warm again, they'll be back at Heritage Square, where Petten will gladly take on the bulk of their care.
"It's a labour of love, yep," Petten said with a laugh.