Hip hip hooray, it’s Therapy Dog Day

From miniature poodles to Bernese mountain dogs, canines small and large are bringing smiles to lonely faces in nursing homes, hospitals and respite centers throughout the Quinte community.

Little Bandit Fowler, an amiable Shetland sheepdog, became a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog in 2006 and is great at his job, says owner Joyce Fowler. At home Bandit is quite rambunctious and likes barking.
Bandit, Dusty and Joyce Fowler sitting in front of Hillcrest Animal Hospital sign

“You’d think he couldn’t run if you taped his mouth shut, but when I take him to the hospital, he acts like a little prince,” says Fowler, currently Co-ordinator of the Quinte Division of Therapy Dogs. “And the people we visit are so happy to see the dogs. They say, ‘Oh it’s Therapy Dog Day, that’s wonderful.’”

Fowler got started in the program to help ease the loneliness of people who may be missing pets of their own or just need the comfort of communing with a dog. She recalls one woman they visited who smiled and got a bit teary-eyed when she petted Bandit. “They told me she hadn’t shown any emotion in over two years. It makes it all worthwhile when something like that happens.”

To ensure the program is safe for everyone, dogs and their owners go through rigorous testing before being certified – a process that takes place over about three months. The dogs must remain calm when approached by people in wheelchairs or subjected to loud noise. In testing sessions, volunteers wearing white coats or dressing gowns will attempt to pet the dogs. Basically, the candidates must stay friendly in any situation they might encounter on a visit. Peeing on the floor means automatic disqualification.

Quinte Therapy Dogs currently visit about 21 facilities from Belleville to Stirling and throughout Quinte West. This includes both hospitals, all of the nursing homes, many retirement facilities and the respite care centre run by Victorian Order of Nurses. Visits can also be set up for people still living in their own homes. The Cobourg division of St. John Ambulance provides services in Brighton.

There are currently 23 dogs in the local program and Fowler says they are always looking for more participants. Although the majority of visits are with adults, there are programs involving children that require more experienced dogs and handlers.

As lovable as they are, neither of my nutty poodles would make it past the wheelchair or loud noise tests without a barkfest and one of them is sure to leave that forbidden puddle on the floor – yes, Cliff we know you would. We won’t be submitting our names, but if you have a laid-back pooch and a hankering to bring some joy to a lonely member of our community, Therapy Dogs might be just the thing. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Therapy Dog program in Canada. To inquire about participating or ask for a visit, contact St. John Ambulance at (613) 962-7933 or email quinte@on.sja.ca.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton, Ontario
October 2012