The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper and reimagines the world”:
- Canadian journalist and author: Malcolm Gladwell
HEY! I’VE GOT A GREAT IDEA!! Ever get an inspiration that you’ve got to, just got to act on, develop, pour energy into, recruit people to breathe life into it, stand it on its feet... and then transplant across the country? Me neither... but that is not this story.
This story began 10 years ago, on August 31, 2002, when Judy Sauvé of Hawkesbury, Ontario, founded Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC). A professional dog trainer, Judy began pet therapy visitation in 1990 with Therapy Dogs International, then with St. John`s Ambulance Therapy Dogs in 1991. After that, Judy had a truly Great Idea.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of TPOC, in the interview with Misty`s Journey (MJ) below, Judy provides poignant insights and details on the birth, infancy and formative years of this national organization.
MJ: What is your first memory of feeling comforted by an animal?
I grew up with a Heinz 57 variety dog and he was just always there. When I left for school he would walk me to the door, when I came back home, he was there to greet me with a wagging tail. Looking back, I now realize just how comforting it was to have him by my side until my parents returned home from work. In 2002, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having my three therapy dogs comfort me opened my eyes to just how much they do for us. No matter where I laid down - on the couch or in my bed - I had three companions by my side all the time. Some days were harder than others and even though I didn't talk or reach out to pet their heads, they never left my side.
MJ: How did your desire to do volunteer work with animals arise?
I was introduced to pet therapy in 1990. I was invited to join a few friends that visited through Therapy Dogs International. I knew absolutely nothing about pet therapy. I had a million questions. I remember wondering if my dogs (Golden Retrievers at that time) would be appropriate. As well, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy interacting with seniors. My dogs loved the interaction and so did I. Honestly it has proved to be the most rewarding experience for both my dogs and myself. After visiting a facility month after month, the residents become more of a friend, and sometimes your extended family, than a client.
MJ: What’s the nature of volunteer work you’ve done with animals?
I visit with seniors, I am the Team Leader for Hawkesbury and I also evaluate potential therapy dogs for TPOC.
MJ: Ten years ago at least one other national association for therapy animals existed. What led you to want to establish a separate, new organization?
In 1990 I visited through the Therapy Dogs International program based in the States. When Jim Newell launched St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs in Peterborough, Ontario in 1991, I joined him along with hundreds of other dedicated volunteers. I resigned from SJA TD as Eastern Ontario Therapy Dog Coordinator. SJA has a good visitation program. I knew there was a need for a visitation program whose sole focus would be pet visitation. TPOC is a volunteer organization designed and created for volunteers. TPOC offers a great mentoring and support system. Informative training workshops for Team Leaders and Evaluators are organized as funds permit. General Membership seminars with invited presenters are hosted in alternate years to the Team Leader/Evaluator workshops. The organization is built on teamwork. The Director of Team Leaders and the Director of Evaluators role is to support the Team Leader and Evaluator respectively. The Team Leader is there to support the volunteer. The Board of Directors is always there to help everyone.
MJ: How did you go about creating the new therapy animal program and where was Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) launched?
It sounds corny but I simply had a vision. TPOC expanded extremely quickly as word spread. From a small acorn a giant grew. Phone calls and emails came in quicker than I could handle them. The founding members of TPOC were from Hawkesbury and Simcoe County. Jim Newell, Shelley Stotts, Randy Coates, William Saunders and myself were basically the first Executive Members. A lot of brainstorming and many hours of computer/email work and telephone conversations resulted in what we know as Therapeutic Paws of Canada today. A great deal of attention was spent on risk management, policies and procedures to protect everyone - the organization, the volunteer, the dog/cat, and the clients we visit. In 2002 I launched TPOC in Hawkesbury with six visiting members. A celebration was hosted at a local senior's residence. Local MP's, community dignitaries and of course the seniors were invited. A long red ribbon covered with black paw prints was cut. Everyone had a pair of scissors and everyone kept a piece of that inaugural ribbon. TPOC was granted charitable status in 2003.
MJ: It’s a daunting task to establish a new TPOC in once city, much less across the country. How did you go about extending the organization across Canada?
Slowly. One day at a time, step by step. I knew TPOC had a wonderful program that would be attractive to many people but it was very important to grow slowly and have the right people in place. Handling one enquiry at a time, launching TPOC in one community at a time was the plan. Requests were flooding in from people in many communities throughout Ontario. Very soon TPOC was asked to expand to other provinces. First, Quebec then Sydney, Nova Scotia, Gibsons, BC and Charlottetown, PEI. TPOC is now coast to coast. A new team in New Brunswick has just held their first therapy dog evaluation.
MJ: What is the aspect of TPOC that makes you the most proud?
I am so proud of the 500+ members that volunteer with TPOC. They donate their time to visit with their four legged companion as a representative of TPOC. The Board of Directors, along with the Team Leaders and Evaluators work together to ensure the visitation program and the Children's Programs are safe for everyone. TPOC developed a therapy cat evaluation in response to the many requests to have a cat visit and at present, TPOC has about 15 visiting cats in the program. TPOC has a trade-marked children's reading program. The Paws To Read® program has helped many, many children overcome their apprehension of reading. Reading a book to a dog helps boost their self confidence on so many levels.
MJ: Were there any surprises or unexpected developments?
It is always a pleasant surprise to receive a call or email from another province asking if TPOC would consider a team in their community. It is disappointing but necessary to explain that TPOC is funded entirely on donations and we simply can't afford to bring TPOC to them. TPOC does not receive any government backing. We are wholly dependent on donations from individuals.
MJ: What’s next?
The next hurdle is to source a chartered accountant to audit the TPOC books in exchange for a tax receipt. Without audited financial statements TPOC is not able to solicit funding from large corporations and foundations that we know are supportive of our programs. TPOC has an ambitious Grant Committee working very hard to shine attention on TPOC and hopefully some donations will start coming our way.
MJ: And that, folks, is how it’s done... stay tuned for the new post on the visit Misty and I paid to the PCU on September 27, 2012.