You know, I had a WAY better title for this one, but do you think I can remember it? Of course not.
Anyhow, I’ve been really excited to write about this, but was waiting for everything to finalize and the training to finish before I put it out there for internet posterity.
Sasha is officially a Hospital Visiting Dog with Pets and Friends! We visit the GF Strong Rehabilitative Centre one night a week.
I really enjoy volunteering and giving back to the community, but I’m socially awkward enough that my stint volunteering solo in palliative care a few years back was painful for all involved. I’ve undertaken some other volunteer projects both big and small, but they all had a finite term, so I’d have to find something new time and time again.
And this time, I really wanted something I could do with the dog. When both Neil and I are working (and even when I’m not, because I’ve been out of the house a lot this week) I feel pretty bad about leaving her at home alone so much.
A few months back, I saw a random blog post where the author mentioned something about therapy pets. So I started googling and found a local organization.
Now therapy or assistance animals and visiting pets are entirely different entities. Therapy animals are those that have been specifically bred, raised and trained to offer assistance to people with disabilities. They’re the labs and shepherds you see who accompany those with vision or other physical impairments, have been trained to recognize seizures and offer assistance for other purposes. These are working dogs, not pets.
Visiting pets are just that, they visit. They’ve been screened for temperament and training, and go with their owners to hospitals, hospices and other care facilities to visit with (usually long-term) patients. They offer a change of routine, a distraction, and unconditional, wet, hairy love.
It’s incredible to see how much a happy dog lights up the faces of people who are facing a really tough time. Especially those who are facing significant life challenges, away from home, friends and family (and their pets!) for extended periods. It’s sad, but so many of these patients, without anything else to do, will just go to bed after dinner (at about 6:00pm) out of sheer boredom. A visitor of any sort (two legs or four) is exactly the kind of thing worth staying up for.
And Sasha is a pretty perfect dog for the job. She’s unfailingly friendly – usually more interested in people than other dogs even, and always more interested in strangers than the humans she sees every day – in a very gentle way. She’s tall enough to stand up on her hind legs and visit people who can’t bend down out of bed to reach her, and is happy to just sit and be scratched on whichever bit of her is within reach.
Honestly, the people we’re visiting care far more about the dog than the human at the end of the leash – and that’s exactly how I like it. Sharing my happy dog with people is way more rewarding than just forcing my awkward presence upon them.
If you’ve got a pet you’d like to volunteer with, a facility you think could use some animal visitors, or just want to know more and perhaps support the organization – go ahead and check out Pets and Friends, or look for ways to get involved in your local area.