Volunteering and Pet Therapy

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”  Roger A. Caras

We have all heard the universal phrase, “a dog is a man’s best friend.”  Perhaps there is a very good reason this phrase endures and resonates with everyone.

The unique relationship between dogs and humans persists for a variety of reasons.  Dogs are nonjudgmental and always listen. They encourage social interaction and contact. They also decrease feelings of isolation and alienation and best of all, they offer unconditional love. They can be the best antidote for loneliness and are increasingly being used to assist patients with mental disorders such as depression, PTSD or autism.

Furthermore, studies have shown that the elderly benefit immensely from pet visitation programs in hospitals or nursing homes. An animal can actually help those living with Alzheimer’s disease recall past events, especially memories that involve animals. Their cognitive and emotional abilities improve especially when the animal is present by stimulating the patient on an emotional level, not an intellectual level.

At Ontario Shores, Volunteer Services has a long rich history of volunteers visiting clients every week with their therapy dog. Currently, four dogs are registered in our weekly pet therapy program: Jasmine, Remington, Levi and Steve. Whether they are big or small, have short fur or long fur, they always elicit a positive response from staff, families and clients.

In our continuing series of volunteer profiles, please enjoy this month’s profile of our wonderful volunteer Michelle from Therapeutic Paws Canada in her own words and her faithful, furry best friend Jasmine, a 6.5 year old poodle-pomeranian cross.

What motivates me to volunteer....knowing that I can make a difference in so many peoples' lives with my wonderful Therapy Dog Jasmine.  Jasmine has allowed me to be educated in such a way I never knew was possible.  If it wasn't for her, I would never have been fortunate enough to go so many places, and visit so many people that desperately need this type of interaction and therapy.  I chose Ontario Shores because I knew that I would be able to make a difference in people’s lives.  I know how important it is to have someone you can talk to and feel like you have a soft place to fall if you need it.  Everyone needs to feel validated and with offering my time, I knew I could put smiles on faces that needed it most.

Memorable moment - Something that sticks out in my mind is a patient who recently insisted on me taking her address and phone number so that when the day came that she would be discharged, she would be able to invite me to her new home, and make me a cup of tea and give Jasmine an Arrowroot cookie.  That pretty much says it all to me.

Something I would share to new Volunteers is… to be honest, patient & interested in what people have to say to you.  It is all very important to them no matter how small or unimportant it may mean to you.