MERRILLVILLE | The senior citizens sat in a semi circle Wednesday as a pint-sized pig dressed in a pink and periwinkle sweater with festive snowflake designs trotted from person to person in search of dried banana chips.
"Come on, honey! Come on! I've got a treat for you!" beckoned Ann Hora, waving a chip.
Hora was among the group of 14 people at Brookdale Senior Living in Merrillville surprised by a visit from Winfield resident Paddington Baird, a Juliana spotted pig with aspirations to become a therapy pig, a job most often linked to dogs.
"OK, so when I said we had a surprise, who thought it'd be a pig in a sweater?" asked Karen Redar, resident program coordinator at the home.
Redar reached out to Paddington's owner Bridget Baird after seeing a story about the pig recently in The Times. A lot of the residents grew up on farms and had pigs. She kept the residents in the dark about the four-legged visitor.
"I wanted to see that little pig coming around the corner and see their faces," Redar said.
Animals have a positive impact on residents.
"It's sort of like music," Redar said. "I think people just relate. The tail wagging and the happy face. They don't ask for anything but to be loved. It's comforting."
Hora enjoyed the interaction.
"They always try to do something different for us," she said.
Resident Fran Marich got a smooch from Paddington when Baird held the pig up to Marich's cheek. She laughed and described it.
"It feels like I've been kissed by a pig!" she said. "That's really cute."
Paddington reminded Marich of the pig named Arnold from the 1960s TV show "Green Acres."
"That was the only time I remember being entertained by a pig," she said.
Since The Times story, several people have reached out to Baird, asking Paddington — who has more than 2,100 followers on Instagram — to visit their groups.
Baird, a special education teacher in the life skills program at Valparaiso High School, hopes once Paddington is certified as a therapy animal, she will be a regular at the school. She has visited the school and was a hit there as well.
As Paddington made her way out of the building, three women peeked out of the door to the home's spa. They stopped and pet her.
"I've never petted a pig before!" one woman squealed.