The Montera residents find therapeutic value of koi pond!

August 22, 2017

Proven through animal therapy for years, the ability to watch fish and marine animals is beneficial to both mental and physical wellbeing. In studies it has shown that people that watch fish in an environment have had reductions in heart rates, blood pressure and because of the somewhat hypnotic state of watching fish in natural or aquarium settings, it also has shown to improve mood, promote calmness and a creates a soothing sensation. This has become a daily routine for many of the residents that live at The Montera, a La Mesa senior living community which offers independent and assisted living as well as memory care.

During remodeling of The Montera there was a short time when they were thinking about removing its Koi pond that is central in its location of the facility. With the leadership of a couple of residents, they gathered signatures from many of the residents that found value in the Koi pond and The Montera gladly let the pond stay, understanding the value that it had for its residents in many ways.

Bill Doc came to the San Diego region in 1967 on his way to Vietnam and fell in love with the area. He knew that he wanted to make it home and convinced his parents to move and he said it is the best move they ever made. Now 69, Doc moved to the Montera after a fall that landed him in the hospital for eight months. Although he said he did not want to move to assisted care, he realized that it was something he had to do. So his best friend and granddaughter helped him find a suitable place. The Montera was their first choice and they told him that it had a beautiful Koi pond, but he admits that he really did not know what it was.

But now, he has become the “Koi King” of The Montera, learning everything that he could find out about Koi fish as he fell in love with the Koi pond, the atmosphere, and the fish. He has named many of them, but the largest, which he said weighs close to 40 pounds, he named “Sonny,” after himself. It was a family nickname given to him because he is a big man and he thought the biggest fish in the pond suited the fish well.

“Just walking back and forth for dinner you have to pass the Koi pond,” he said. “With the staff not being able to supply food for us to feed, I buy the Koi food myself right now. So when I eat, they eat. They know me pretty well now. When they see me come to the bridge, they all just get in line and come over to me. They are just beautiful. They are really good for old people or any people. They are wonderful to be around, they are calming to watch and people here have taken a new interest in them seeing me down there three times a day feeding them. People stop at the second floor and look down at the pond. There are a few more that are feeding them now and I am working with the staff to see if we can get them to purchase the food for us.”

Doc said he has done a lot of research about Koi and found that they are as smart as dogs, can be trained to eat out of your hand and they know a familiar face when they see it. “It’s especially comforting when they blow you kisses with their mouth,” he said.

Another Koi champion Mary Towne, 69, was born and raised in California but lived many years in Arizona. As a recreational therapist by profession, the Koi pond was an instant draw for her as she already knew the value that it provided.

“I think it is perfect,” she said. “Not only do I see people down there visiting with their families, but people visiting with their friends, people wanting some solitude. When I came here it was related to the activities available. As I looked at the pond, I noticed what was happening. I noticed the waterfall, the pond, that it was wheelchair accessible so everybody could enjoy it, it has beautiful landscape and is just a pleasant area.”

Towne said to her it is like a large park. It also has butterflies and dragonflies, so you have a multitude of real things to watch, listen and feel.

“It really is a therapeutic area,” she said. “I see people come in agitated and as they watch the fish, find some solitude, it helps. I’ve seen residents bring their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and it becomes the focus of a family activity. You can’t always do that unless you have something calming like the fish, and a relationship with the fish. I see residents by the pond every day.”

Towne said this goes well with what the Montera already offers its residents. A swimming pool, pet therapy, activities all day there and out in the community.

“We have a lot of therapeutic activities, we don’t just sit in our rooms,” she said. “We have a lot to do and we do it together. We have a van and a bus here, so the accessibility to the community keeps the reintegration to the outside community and there are many places that we can go see and do together and interact with the people that we meet.”

The Montera offers independent living, assisted living and memory care. Its parent company is West Living owned by Gary and Mary West of San Diego who diligently work in the geriatric industry, so it is partly owned by them.

The Montera Sales & Marketing Manager Phil Mikelatos said it does a lot of outreach in the community and not only offers senior related activities, and people of all ages in the community are invited to come and partake in its activities programs.

“We have two teams here for activities. So there are a lot of activities that are interactive for our residents. We have activities for memory care, assisted care and independent living care. We offer a lot of volunteer experiences as well, so those that are interested in working with seniors or just want to give back we offer them volunteer programs here,” he said.

Mikelatos said it wants residents to have an environment where they will thrive and sometimes families and residents are just not aware of what The Montera really offers.

“Our mindset is different so it takes them a little while to get acclimated to their new community,” he said. “But a lot of residents that move in here have been alone for a long time, haven’t really been social and they come in here and experience things that they thought they might never experience again in their life. It’s really nice to see our residents thrive in an environment filled with social activities, physical therapy and exercise programs, and our meal plans, and we have a great chef. In reality, we are hospitality and we are gearing our industry towards those that need it. So customer service for us is very high and we want to make sure that our residents are treated the same way on a daily basis. Because this is their home.”

For more information about The Montera, A West Living Community, visit and