Sign up for our free weekday bulletin.

Therapy dogs share magic touch at senior homes, schools

Published on

Troy Shantz

Caring for of some of Sarnia’s most vulnerable has gone to the dogs — and that’s a good thing.

The local branch of St. John’s Ambulance has been bringing therapy dogs to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities for the past 20 years.

“If we put a smile on somebody’s face, that’s a good day,” said Bill Donnelly, who coordinates the 49-dog program.

Vision Nursing Home resident Norm Krumholtz shares a quiet moment with Ty after the therapy dog showed up on the patio.
Troy Shantz

Last year, the pooches comprising Unit 1094 made at total of 1,300 visits to nursing homes and elementary schools, Lambton College and St. Joseph’s Hospice, two Alzheimer day programs, Bluewater Health and Community Living residences.

When the standard poodle Bella arrives at Sumac Lodge there is an instant transformation, said recreation manager Jenny Redick.

“The expression on our residents’ faces is just pure joy. When we have residents that are non-verbal, but they see the dog, they’re talking through their eyes.”

Some residents even buy their own dog treats to have on hand for Bella, she added.

“I think they should be in every long-term care home.”

Kali is a standard schnauzer that makes weekly visits to Hanna Memorial School. There she offers unconditional love and attention and that’s something students really benefit from, said her handler, Judy Gooch.

Hanna Memorial student Lily Cooper responds to a getting a “kiss” from Kali, a standard schnauzer.
Troy Shantz

“They can read to her, and if they’re not a strong reader, Kali doesn’t mind if they make mistakes.”

When a dog shows up at a school students sometimes jockey chaotically for position. But thanks to her training Kali is usually unfazed, Gooch added.

“She’s very calm, she’s very practiced.”

Donnelly said his work often gives rise to special moments.

“One of the things I talk about the most is the magic of therapy dogs,” he said. “Whether someone is having a good day or a bad day… it’s always positive.”

Vision Nursing Home resident Edie greets Ty, a golden retriever, as handler Gennine L’Heureux looks on. Troy Shantz
Residents Richard Comeau and Blossom Chaykoski say hello to Bella, a standard poodle, during a recent visit to Sumac Lodge.
Troy Shantz
Therapy dogs and handlers undergo extensive training to be eligible for the program.
Troy Shantz
Bella shakes a paw with Sumac Lodge resident Blossom Chaykoski and recreation manager Jenny Redick. Looking on is handler Elaine Roach.
Troy Shantz




More like this