Profile: Steve Pearson and Zelda, Caregivers, Acacia Adult Day Services

Steve Pearson and Zelda. (Lauren M. Whaley/Center for Health Reporting)


When Lorna Pearson’s diabetes escalated and she could no longer walk on her own, her husband Steve became her full-time caregiver.

Steve got some respite once Lorna started going to Acacia Adult Day Services a couple days a week. She received care for her diabetes, and made friends there. And Steve got to take care of the basics, like grocery shopping.

When Lorna died four years ago, Steve was bereft.

“After 42 years, it’s hard,” said Pearson, 71. “It’s hard going on without her.”

But the experience at Acacia left a lasting impression. He was grateful and wanted to stay connected.

Now he returns every week with his four-year-old German Shepherd, Zelda, that he rescued from the pound after Lorna died. He and Zelda make the rounds with the 72 or so elderly and disabled attendees who spend their days at the Garden Grove center.

“She is such a loving dog,” Pearson said. “I tried to give her treats to get her to do something, didn’t work. Gave her a hug and a rub, told her you loved her, and she’d do anything.”

The participants smile when she approaches. They clap, they laugh. They pat her lightly or hug her vigorously. One woman tried to get the 75-pound Zelda to sit on her lap. Another, Pearson said, broke down in tears when Zelda first came around. Pearson learned through an interpreter that the woman had left her shepherds in Vietnam when she had emigrated to the US.

“It’s like giving back to the people that helped me with Lorna,” he said. “It gives them joy and it gives me joy to be able to put the smiles on their faces. Their response to her has been wonderful. Could you ask for anything more from a pet?”


Lauren M. Whaley is a journalist for the Center for Health Reporting at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California. The center receives support from the Gary and Mary West Foundation to report on senior issues.

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Lauren M. Whaley

Freelance journalist Lauren M. Whaley is a photographer, radio producer and print reporter specializing in topics related to mental illness, reproductive health care and health disparities. She is also a childbirth photographer.This year, She is working on a series about how low-income parents access care for perinatal mental illnesses. The project is funded in part by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.She was a 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.Her work has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) STEM story project. She has contributed radio, video, photography and written stories to KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and other media outlets. For six years, she worked as the Center for Health Reporting's multimedia journalist. She is a past president of the national organizationJournalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and spent her early 20s leading canoe expeditions for young women, including a solo-led 45-trip in the Canadian Arctic. She is based in Los Angeles.

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