The following blogpost was written by Sammy's handler/owner, Sue Hillerby
I am a retired Registered Marriage and Family Therapist. While working, I used to watch the therapy dogs coming into my hospital, and saw first hand the positive effects that their visits had on the patients and staff. I looked forward to the opportunity to volunteer in this way after retiring and moving to Collingwood. Sammy, my Standard Poodle, has turned out to be the most amazing colleague to help me fulfill this dream. He was born on 31st July, 2005, at Cantope Kennels, Ontario, Canada and he came to live with me a year later. He has been a Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) Therapy Dog since March, 2008, and a TPOC Child Certified Therapy Dog since May 2010.
Over the years, Sammy has worked at Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, Sunset Manor, Hospice Georgian Triangle, VON Day Away Program, Collingwood Public Library, Wasaga Beach Public Library, St. Noel Chabanel Catholic Elementary School, Rainbows, and many more locations, bringing joy and friendship to seniors, children and patients in our community. He has appeared on our local TV station, and in our newspapers and On The Bay magazine, as well as annually in the Georgian Triangle Humane Society calendar. Whenever we walk in downtown Collingwood, people recognize him and come over to say Hello. As Team Leader's dog from 2009 to 2015, he has also mentored many new team members, introducing other dogs to the joys of visiting, and helping to ensure that the service continues.
Special Moments Sammy's Had On The Job
If you could ask Sammy what he enjoys most about his work, I know he wouldn't hesitate to say “The Paws To Read ® Program”. He is such a tactile dog and he just loves snuggling up to children on a cozy blanket whilst they read stories to him and stroke his head or back. Admittedly, he does fall asleep sometimes nowadays, but they don't mind. He has helped so many boys and girls in local schools and libraries to overcome their shyness and their reluctance to read aloud. I truly believe that the program helps to put the joy back into reading. Kids love it, parents love it, librarians love it, and Sammy does too.
After so many years of visiting there are, of course, a myriad special memories:
A hospital is a place full of emotions. Sometimes the children are sick or scared, unsure of what will happen to them, and Sammy will just sit quietly by while they stroke him or give him a treat. His calm gentleness is reassuring. And adults, too can be worried about their procedures, impatient at the slow pace of their recovery or, as visitors, fearful for their loved ones. A dog is an entertainer, a distraction, a friend, a gentle presence in times of trouble. People smile when they see him, laugh when he does his little tricks, and sometimes they cry into his fur, knowing that he will never judge them or turn away when they are overcome with feelings that are too hard to contain. So many of the staff and volunteers at the hospital store special treats for him in their desk drawers – I am convinced that he has memorized the route between those drawers, and could do the whole visit without me if the rules allowed. Many of his best friends at the hospital are the patients in dialysis. Like us, they are there on the same day every week, often waiting for him with tidbits of their own, eager to hear what he has been doing since his last visit, or what he got up to on his vacation. And Sammy's is the face gazing so lovingly at a person on the Senior Programs page of the TPOC website. A beautiful memory from the early days of our visiting.
Visits to the seniors' residence are so special – there we always see the same people week after week and many of the memorable moments are beautiful in their simplicity: the smile on JC's face as she sees him from across the room and reaches out her good hand, a signal that he instantly recognizes, or the sweet way in which WP takes hold of his leash each week and asks if he can keep him. DJ, who was attacked and terrified by a dog as a young girl, swore she wanted nothing to do with dogs, but decades later Sammy has won her over and now she waits to touch his curly head and play with his silky ears. One of his favourite people is AK, who used to have two Standard Poodles of her own, and knows exactly where he loves to be scritched. I don't think she has ever uttered a word to either of us, but she says so much with her eyes.
Some of our memories from there, of course, are sad ones: eight years ago HY was our neighbour, but now she lives in a secure unit and no longer knows either of us. Sammy still remembers her and gives her his most enthusiastic snuggles, no doubt recalling the days when she and I used to walk our dogs together beside the lake. And how do you explain to a dog that his favourite resident has passed away? The next time we went after that happened, Sammy absolutely refused to walk past JL's room without going in to see this elderly gentleman. The room had been emptied and one of the housekeeping staff was busy cleaning in preparation for the next occupant (such are the realities of long term care). I asked if I could bring him in and let him see for himself and she and I watched with tears in our eyes as he examined every nook and cranny and finally, with a drooping tail, concluded that his dear friend was no longer there. “What a sweet boy” she said. “I know” was all I could manage in return.
Sammy and I have walked many miles together, in rain and snow and sunshine, in woods and on beaches, and in all sorts of places where people live or gather. As he turns 11, I am gently retiring him from most of his TPOC duties. He is healthy and his heart is as full and as generous as ever, but his eyes are becoming cloudy and there is not always that elegant spring in his step that so took my breath away when I first met him. Some days he is excitedly wagging his tail when he sees his red vest come out, on other days he is showing some reluctance to get out of his big comfy bed. He tires more quickly now and I need to continue to observe him lovingly and not ask too much of him.
Thank you, Sammy, for your kind heart, for your sweet face, and for helping me to make at least one important dream come true. They're still playing our song, and the dance isn't over yet.