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| | Catholic Herald photo/Julie D. Kelemen
Dale Feyen lives in the Apple River Apartments along with his 11-year-old cockatoo, Peaches. Apple River Apartments allow residents to have pets, with some restrictions
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Editor’s note: To coincide with Catholic Charities Week, June 11-15, this is the first in a series of articles about what the Diocesan Services Appeal-funded charity offers in the Diocese of Superior.
AMERY — Question: What has six feet and helps make a housing complex a home?
Answer: Smidgen the dachshund and Peaches the cockatoo.
Smidgen and Peaches are just two pets of residents at the Apple River Apartments in Amery.
Literally located across the street from the Apple River, the eight-apartment facility is one of a few specialized housing facilities Catholic Charities operates in the Diocese of Superior for residents with mental illnesses. This building contains one- and two-bedroom apartments. One is vacant, and another two are expected to open up soon.
Pets, it turns out, are often quite therapeutic for people with mental illnesses, not to mention the rest of us. Studies have shown that when one pets a cat or dog, for example, a person’s blood pressure drops.
The nearby river helps, too. During the Herald’s visit, resident Joe Schirmeister, 22, returned with his poles and tackle box. He’s lived in the building since September. He said the process for getting to live in the building was, “Not much. Just like any other process — filling out forms. You need a background check.” He lived with his parents before the move and now lives on his own. “I was born and raised in Stillwater (Minn.) and lived here since September,” he said. His father works at the hospital in Amery, and Joe works a few hours a week.
“I put in boat docks for True Value…. It’s something, but it’s not much. We’ve got one to do on Friday. It’s 195 feet, $125,000 worth of dock. I’ve been doing it since March.”
Schirmeister is also big deer hunter, said Diane Weiss, the building’s manager.
Weiss added that he likes to hunt coyotes “basically all year round. You don’t have to buy a license for them.”
The day before he and friends caught “61 sunnies (sunfish) out by the river on the dam. Today I’m going to go and try to catch a muskie that snapped the line before.”
Weiss said another tenant was with him when he snagged the muskie, “and she said she seen that fish come out of the water and thought it was a shark!”
Schirmeister said, “She started having a panic attack, but I’ve caught them before. They’re very temperamental.”
He keeps them and eats them. “If I catch a Northern I’m going to eat it, as long as it’s bigger than my foot … and fits the frying pan.”
He went on to discuss rough fish most anglers don’t want — dogfish, bullheads. He said he does like catfish, normally a more Southern U.S. taste.
Smidgie the dachshund barks nearby, announcing the imminent arrival of owner and tenant Donna Richardson, who shares an apartment with daughter, Cassie Hoople.
The tidy, decades-old building is one-story, handicapped accessible, with a hall of eight doors and railings. Tenants are people who, because of the nature of their condition, often can’t find or keep full-time employment, yet their abilities are strong enough that don’t need institutional or group home care.
A typical tenant, Weiss said, might be bipolar and in recovery from an addiction.
“Their rent would be one-third of their income …. The only (utility) bill they’d have … is their cable TV and telephone .… I don’t know where you could live for that. The apartments are nothing fancy. There’s no dishwashers, no garages. It’s fine. It’s very cozy.”
“He’ll go for the girl every time"
Dale Feyen is another resident who spoke with the Herald. He brought out his cockatoo, Peaches, who was hatched on an island off Australia 11 years ago.
“He just had a birthday,” Feyen said.
Peaches quietly scoped out the surroundings and people.
“He likes girls,” said Feyen, as Peaches hopped down and wandered across the floor toward two women. “He’s a boy. He can tell the difference. You got a guy standing there and a girl, he’ll go for the girl every time.”
“Dale’s kind of a handyman here,” Weiss said. The building, “really doesn’t qualify to have a full-time maintenance man,” she added.
“Where’s my lovin’?” Richardson asked Peaches, and Peaches then nestled lovingly into her neck.
Peaches, true to his namesake, likes to eat fruit, especially tropical ones. For protein, he noshes on hot dogs. And he often entertains and listens to residents, no matter what the troubles might be.
Stigma and stereotypes people have about persons who endure mental illnesses can be difficult to shatter. Common public misperceptions include thinking people with mental illnesses are violent and unpredictable; therefore they should be kept away from the rest of the population. It’s been a tough stereotype to dissolve.
Ironically, it is isolation that most mental health workers and patients agree is what aggravates mental illness. To help with that, Apple River has a few features like a basketball hoop, picnic table, furnished lobby area and it allows some pets, with restrictions — all to ease dreaded isolation and increase bonding and everybody’s need to be needed.
When basic human relational needs are weak or non-existent, susceptibility to mental illness and substance abuse are often found together because persons use drugs and other addictive behaviors like gambling to “self medicate” — to find relief from the psychic pain, anxiety and fear that a mental illness causes. Ideally, such persons would visit a physician or other mental health professional to get proper diagnosis, therapy and other treatment. Many things can prevent that, though, especially low income. and other barriers to good, timely medical care. Living in rural Wisconsin doesn’t help either. Like many rural areas, northern Wisconsin has a shortage of medical specialists, especially psychiatrists.
But Apple River always seeks tenants who can qualify — a rigorous process that includes physician recommendation, income qualifications, a criminal background check and more.
Cats and dogs are approved if a doctor says they’d help as service animals, and the tenant pays a security deposit.
“Birds and fish are free,” Weiss adds.
To learn more about mental illnesses, especially common myths about it, visit http://www.whatadifference.samhsa.gov.
© Superior Catholic Herald, June 7, 2012