At BC Children's Hospital, our Volunteer Resources team has been collaborating with canine community partners and the BC Children's Hospital Foundation to bring furry friends to our campus through our Pet Therapy program which is presented by PetSmart Charities of Canada™.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, program coordinators Lisa Knight, child life specialist and Cynthia Vallance, volunteer resources found creative ways to continue pet visits with patients, families and staff. In addition to outdoor patio visits and Zoom events for patients and families, Lisa and Cynthia have streamlined the BC Children's Hospital dog intake process so that these new furry recruits can bring more puppy love to staff.
BC Children's Hospital therapy dog Fudge sits calmly with Cole, a patient at BC Children's, during a break from testing. Fudge and handler Beth were part of this summer's Canine Good Neighbour test.
"With fewer direct patient visits during the pandemic, Lisa and I saw the opportunity to connect our pet therapy teams with staff," said Cynthia. "So far, the response has been fantastic and we continue to witness the healing power of pet therapy. As we continue to grow our program, we want to maintain this "pawsitive" engagement for staff on a regular basis."
"Staff are given the chance to slow down, be present and receive some unconditional love from a dog," said Lisa. "I see colleagues come together to smile and laugh with each other. I hear comments like 'This is just what I needed' and 'I can't stop smiling.'"
To make this happen, C&W partnered with BC Pets and Friends and a new process was established to directly accept applications to the pet therapy program. The first step is the Canine Good Neighbour test.
This summer, 16 dogs came to BC Children's Hospital, ready to take the test to become certified as a Canine Good Neighbour. These determined pups had to go through a 12-step, non-competitive test that assesses the handler and dog's relationship and their ability to perform basic exercises including their ability to demonstrate good manners. Not all the dogs passed, and those who didn't are welcome to come back to try again!
"The examiner was knowledgeable and encouraging. It was time to polish our manners after the isolating days of COVID-19. The entire staff supported our success and it was a pleasure to participate," said Brenda with her dog Prada.
"This is going to allow us to recruit and increase the number of pet therapy teams that we can bring to our campus," said Cynthia. "And in doing so, we can continue to develop something special for our Pets Assisting with Wellness for Staff (PAWS) initiative."
For the pups who pass, they can go on to complete their Assessment for Child Engagement (ACE) test. This means they are put through a secondary evaluation to ensure they are OK working with patients and interacting in broader way within a hospital environment.
Think you and your pup would make a great volunteer? Contact Volunteer Resources at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help get your pup on the road to spreading joy throughout our hospital campus.