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Benefield: “Animals change everyone’s attitude”

When John Schoonover lost his 19-year-old Chihuahua Peanut in August, he was devastated.

Peanut had been his constant companion. And perhaps more importantly, his regular sidekick at Windsor House aged care facility, which he owns and operates in Windsor.

Peanut went to Schoonover’s side, greeted the five residents, played in the living room and brought everyone a little home.

When she suddenly wasn’t there, residents, many of whom are dealing with dementia issues, knew instinctively, he said.

“They knew,” Schoonover said.

They knew Peanut was gone and they knew Schoonover was devastated about it.

“One of the ladies lost her cat that same week,” he said. “We talked about loss and she knew what I was going through.”

He still had Penny Lane, a little 4 year old Morkie. But Penny spends most of her time at his home in Sebastopol with Schoonover’s recently retired wife, Dorri.

Peanut was John Schoonover’s sidekick.

So it was Dorri Schoonover who got to work looking for a new sidekick for her husband.

“My wife found her online,” he said of a puppy named Dolomite.

Dorri found a litter of six Chihuahua puppies that had been abandoned in Bakersfield. They were cared for at Little Trooper Ranch, a non-profit animal rescue organization in Santa Rosa.

But John was skeptical. And to be honest, he was still a little sad about Peanut.

It felt too soon.

“She was my rock,” he said. “I didn’t think I could ever replace that.”

Despite this, he agreed to meet one of the puppies.

And he immediately fell in love with Dolomite.

The Schoonovers brought the puppy home.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about the dog mom who gave birth to the litter.

“My wife said, ‘A dog,'” he said. “But the moment we walked in, I fell in love with the mom and I was like, ‘Oh, how am I supposed to pull this off?'”

So he said he and his wife brokered some kind of horse trade.

He described it as a honey-do list.

It worked.

Two days later he was back at Little Trooper Ranch for Mom.

“I just liked the mother so much,” he said. “It just felt like they looked alike, they mirrored each other, and it felt like the right thing.”

For the past three weeks, Schoonover has put his new duo to work and mother and daughter have breathed new life into Windsor House.

Schoonover renamed Dolomite. He calls her Frida Maria. Mama stays Bandita.

“They’re just the cutest little girls,” he said.

Frida wears a leopard print collar with jeweled accents.

Bandita, perhaps the more world-weary of the two, has a simpler collar.

“She was rescued from the streets of Bakersfield,” he said, allowing Bandita to kiss his face. “She doesn’t like to talk about it, but she’s gone from rags to riches.”

Like Peanut before her, Bandita follows Schoonover’s feet wherever he goes. Frida, who is still learning the ways of the world, is mostly on a leash around the house.

But they stay close.

“The little baby is with her mommy every day,” he said.

Mother and daughter wrestle in the living room where the residents are watching TV. They sleep in the corner of the kitchen under the window.

They generally make you happy.

“I had a puppy about this size,” said resident Dorothy Guenter, holding her hands in a tight circle to describe Frida.

Guenter lost her cat Sadie almost at the same time as Peanut died.

Like Schoonover, Günter is enthusiastic about the newcomers.

“He sat here and let me pet him and I talked to him,” she said. “He was a great comfort after Sadie died.”

Schoonover believes their presence is good for residents.

“They bring people to life here,” he said. “Suddenly the pain, I don’t think it’s 96 anymore. they shine. Animals change everyone’s perspective.”

Including his own.

Schoonover had worried that getting a new dog too soon after Peanut’s death might not be a good idea.

Then he looked at Frida. And then Bandita jumped up and put her paws on him.

He was finished at that point.

“Not only did I replace that (love), I fixed it twice,” he said. “It’s been so incredible how the mood has changed, just daily life.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.

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