Powell River Therapy Dogs group has been providing comfort and entertainment to patients, long-term care residents and individuals in this community for 10 years.
The first therapy dog unit in Canada started in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1992.
Gale Alsgard started the local unit in 2011 after seeing the benefits from when she lived for a time in Vancouver. She was assisted in her efforts by Marie Rumley, who at the time was employed at St. John Ambulance. They worked through all the paperwork required to get the group organized.
The 100-per-cent volunteer program has certified handlers and dogs visiting adults and children who can benefit from the unconditional love of dogs. Currently there are 29 certified therapy dogs with 14 certified to be with children.
Current facilitator Deb Maitland took over from Audrey McLeish five years ago.
Maitland and her husband retired to Powell River eight years ago with their two older bichon frise dogs. She became acquainted with therapy dogs when her husband underwent successful treatment at BC Cancer clinic in Vancouver.
Maitland wanted one, but recognized their dogs “definitely would not make good therapy dogs.”
Subsequently, they adopted a goldendoodle named Jerry who was being given away.
“I looked at his face and fell in love; he hopped in our truck and never looked back,” says Maitland. “He’s a perfect fit. Like all good therapy dogs, he is so intuitive and gravitates towards people who need his attention most. My dream came true with him.”
Therapy dogs are considered lifesavers because interaction with them can lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, diminish overall physical pain, decrease anxiety and reduce boredom and loneliness, to mention a few benefits.
Locally the handlers and their dogs pre-COVID visited extended care facilities, Powell River General Hospital, group homes, stroke recovery centre, schools, Powell River Public Library (PRPL) and community events.
Therapy dogs and handlers are kicking off their “Read to Dogs” program at PRPL on Tuesday, February 23. Held virtually via Zoom, they are scheduled on the last Tuesday of every month from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.
“This is a fun way for kids to practise their reading,” says Maitland. “Parents can register their children by contacting PRPL.”
Goals for the group include continuing to recruit additional volunteers/therapy dogs, expanding the program and coordinating creative and fun events such as talent shows, window parades and a promotional video.
New recruitment drives are underway and there are 26 people and their dogs waiting for the next orientation.
“It involves a two-step evaluation, the first of which has the owner come to find out what the requirements are, such vet certification and criminal record checks,” explains Maitland. “Then a week later, they come with their dogs and we work through 12 different scenarios over an hour. “
Maitland is looking forward to getting an orientation on the calendar once that can be done under COVID protocols. Both dogs and handlers are missing their volunteer work as well as the large social gatherings that used to take place during the summer and at Christmastime.
They also would like to hold fundraising events again.
“We have very little funding so we are so very thankful for our support from the Rotary clubs,” says Maitland. “They have helped us with our Dogs 4 Dogs fundraisers; they’ve purchased uniform vests for us from Taws; they’re supporting the purchase of our parade banner. They’re just always there when we need them. We can’t thank them enough for what they do.”
The group is also appreciative of Henderson Elementary School’s offer to use its facilities.
For more information about joining the group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.