Lending a paw
Members of the local Therapeutic Paws of Canada visited Chesterville’s Garden Villa on Sat., March 9. While the pairs usually visit on their own, this special visit included pointer, Mopus with owner Murielle Ovenden, team leader Dawn Redmond with poodle, Porkchop and Linda Johnson with Portuguese water dog, Mia. Missing from photo: Carrie Stockwell with spaniel, Logan.

CHESTERVILLE – Becoming part of a therapy dog team can be both challenging and rewarding. This is something the new members of the local Therapeutic Paws of Canada team have been learning over the last few months. 

The local team began as a duo with Dawn Redmond and her poodle, Porkchop, back in 2017. Redmond spent many years volunteering in each local community where she lived and felt she wanted to give back. “[It was] after having worked in hospitals and a police department and seeing first hand that every community, no matter how big or small, has vulnerable people that need help; and without volunteers many important services such as Meals on Wheels, etc. and Victim Services would not happen,” she said. 

Porkchop delights
Garden Villa resident Marlene Droppo is a favourite of therapy dog, Porkchop. The pair along with Porkchop’s owner Dawn Redmond spent some time visiting on March 9. 
Sawyer Helmer photos

Redmond started by making visits in North Grenville and extended her visits to North Dundas including the Garden Villa and Dundas Manor. Each dog to participate in the program goes through a behaviour evaluation that includes stress scenarios with actors to determine the dog’s resistance to the many possible situations. While the canines need to be a good fit for the program, the testing also focuses on the people. People who can engage with others and are comfortable with the seniors and patients they are visiting is equally important. 

“We have a nice mix of people and different ages. People from the community who have their own experience [to bring to the table],” said Redmond. 

Just after the beginning of the new year, Redmond put out the call to expand her team. Having previously conducted an evaluation before without success, the latest group has seen the addition of three owners and their canines. The process starts with a conversation over the phone; Redmond interviews prospects and then recommends some for the evaluation. The three that were successful include, Linda Johnson with Mia, her Portuguese water dog, Murielle Ovenden with Mopus, a pointer and Carrie Stockwell with Logan, a spaniel. 

Each volunteer has a different story that has led them to the program. A desire to give back and bring joy is at the heart of it, just as it was when Redmond began. Johnson noted that having been a nurse for 35 years in North Dundas means she has the opportunity to visit with many of those she has known over her career. “It’s nice to see the joy on their faces when they get to experience loving up a puppy,” she said. 

The visits last no longer than an hour, so as not to weigh on the dogs or their owners. Redmond said the program is not intended to feel like work but is meant to be enjoyable. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious commitment to the program however. The volunteers learn that being on time and keeping their commitment to the schedule means a lot to those they visit, as the residents often notice if volunteers are late or miss their appointment. 

With such active engagement from the people they are visiting, the volunteers often have a chance to check in on the residents and offer an eager ear to hear their stories. “There is so much life in these homes,” said Ovenden. Her own journey with the program began after seeing the need while helping her grandmother in France move into a seniors’ home. The interactions are just as beneficial to Ovenden who works from home and can go a long time without engaging with others in person. “It forces a break in a routine and gives a nice exchange of interaction,” she said. 

With such a success rate so far, Redmond said she hopes to grow the team and the locations that the duos will visit. With more canines and their companions to work with, even more people in the region will be able to benefit from the healing powers of a good cuddle with a dog.