It was Charles Shultz of “Peanuts” fame who said that “happiness is a warm puppy”.
That sentiment is certainly in line with the work of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, a program that will soon be a regular feature for the residents of Kiwanis Village seniors facility.
“We noticed over the years how our residents loved it when a dog came to visit one of the folks here. The dog would become the centre of attention and seemed to have this wonderful affect on everyone,” explained Meaghan Alford, the administrator of the Kiwanis Village Society.
“We also have a number of neighbours who make a point of walking their dogs through our grounds and our residents go out and wait for them to come. Some of the residents buy doggy treats for their furry friends. It was obvious that it was something we should look at.”
Alford contacted Liz Barlow, the head of the Therapy Dog Program with a request that the Kiwanis Village become one of the clients of the service.
“We got the request and went to work recruiting, vetting, and training volunteers who would offer the service at that location. It’s not as easy as it sounds and has taken a couple of months now,” said Barlow.
“We have volunteers who are just in the final stages of being certified now and we are just about ready to go.”
In order to qualify for the program the dogs have to be at least two years of age, have a good temperament and be in good health. The owners/handlers must have good communication skills, pass a criminal record check and have the time and commitment to fulfill their responsibilities under the program.
They then have to complete an orientation and training program of their own.
“I sort of revived this program when I got to Victoria five years ago as it was pretty much defunct at the time. But we got it going again and now we have teams that attend senior’s homes, Royal Jubilee Hospital, the University of Victoria and classrooms and libraries. It’s really something I’m very proud of,” said Barlow.
Back at Kiwanis Village, the first visit of the therapy dogs arrived on Wednesday morning to the delight of the residents.
“It is so heartwarming to see the affect that our dogs can have in the lives of seniors. I’ve been doing this for 18 years and it is just amazing when you see a senior with dementia suddenly break into a big smile when they come into contact with a dog. You know it’s having an affect,” said Cora Thomson.
“All the residents have a very good reaction, in fact. It’s hard to describe the looks of happiness we see on their faces.”
Thomson and her dog Corrie were also on hand when Kiwanis resident, Brian Grant entered the common room.
His face split into a grin as he called the dog onto the couch beside him and began to gently stroke Corrie.
“I used to have two dogs for a long time. I had to give them up but I miss them a lot. This is wonderful…” he said, drifting off into what were undoubtedly memories of his own dogs in days gone by.
Bette Anderson and her dog Ferghus (not Fergus, said Anderson, as that would make him Irish and Ferghus is definitely a Scot) were also on hand and Anderson spoke about how she has volunteered for more than 10 years and is now a part of the St. John’s Ambulance program.
“I see the difference that it makes for people to come into contact with a dog. And it’s not only seniors. We go out to UVic at exam time and we see the calming effect the dogs have on over-stressed students. In libraries a child who is having trouble with reading can put it aside and simply enjoy Ferghus’ company,” said Anderson.
“This is something I love doing and I can’t think of anything that brings more happiness to people.”
According to Alford, the initial visitations will happen at Heatherington House at the Kiwanis Village, but the plans are to expand the program to all the residences within the complex.
Anyone interested in the program should contact the St. John’s Ambulance Society in Victoria for further information.