It was actually a Faith Today article and webinar that indirectly led to my dog Dewey and I embarking on a journey to become a therapy dog team visiting seniors in a residence.
While researching and interviewing for a piece about palliative care and euthanasia — of all things — I started to hear a clear message, especially from Bruce Clemenger, president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He talked about the need for Canadian Christians to embrace our seniors and make sure we are being the hands and feet of Christ to a portion of our population who are often lonely and sometimes neglected by their families, friends, and perhaps even by an overloaded medical care system.
At the same time, I was feeling a clear call to volunteer my time outside of the church circles in which I normally served. Plus, I have a great big, fluffy, lovable golden doodle who loves nothing more than going from person to person in a room, being cuddled and loved and talked to in warm, adoring voices by whomever is willing and available.
So, Dewey and I applied to become a therapy dog team through St. John Ambulance. We went through the process of evaluation and training, and then a four week mentoring period with an experienced therapy dog volunteer.
Each week me, my mentor, and Dewey of course, would meet outside the doors of the Port Perry Villa, and have a conversation about things like what side of a wheel chair to approach, how to handle barking if dogs meet up in this otherwise very human environment, and the most important tip for me: to not get in the way. In my nervousness, I had been kneeling down to be eye level with Dewey, so I could reassure him in this unfamiliar setting. My mentor asked me not to do this, to just trust Dewey to do his job.
I did, and things gelled from that moment on. Dewey would spend as much time with each senior as they wanted, being cuddled, scratched and stroked, giving and receiving love and affection. It’s been surprising to me, actually, how many seniors permit enthusiastic face licking! I would stand back and hold Dewey’s leash loosely and trust that all would go well. If the senior wanted to talk to me at all it was to ask a few questions about Dewey, but even more likely to share a story about a dog they once loved. It’s very moving to listen to the vivid memories of beloved but long passed away pets.
My friend and 100 Huntley St host and reporter Cheryl Weber caught wind of Dewey’s new job and asked if she and a camera crew could come to Port Perry and visit and film Dewey at work. And that’s how I ended up on 100 Huntley St with my golden doodle. The segment will air on Dec.19. Ruff! Ruff!
Karen Stiller is a senior editor with Faith Today. Check out our awesome subscription deal that includes a subscription to LIM, Canada’s Christian youth magazine.