My first experience with the soul touching effects of pet visitation was in 1990. The joy that I saw in the eyes of the seniors changed my life profoundly. I began this journey with my two beautiful Golden girls – Tammy and Jasmine. Both of the girls were active in obedience and tracking. While they enjoyed those activities, the girls loved visiting, especially Tammy. Jim Newell, founder of the St. John Ambulance therapy visitation program was our Tracking instructor. It was Jim who encouraged me to consider pet therapy. Before St. John Ambulance therapy dogs existed, Jim and I visited as partners. I laugh when I remember asking Jim, “what is pet therapy”? One visit with Jim and his Jenny, a gentle Bouvier, and I was hooked.
I distinctly remember one day when Tammy just didn’t want to leave Bill’s room. I knew Bill quite well because he had attended my obedience classes with his German Shepherd puppy. One day Bill gave me a little present that he had made in the craft room. It was a small 3x4 picture frame decorated with little dog cookies glued around the edges. It touched my heart! On this particular day, as I stood to say good bye to Bill, Tammy would get up, circle and promptly lay down at his feet again. Bill laughed and it was obvious he was enjoying this little game. Sadly, the following week the staff told me that Bill had suffered a stroke that same evening. Tammy knew that Bill needed her to stay a little longer that day. Both Tammy and I had a difficult time entering Bill’s room to meet and welcome a new resident.
The girls and I also visited weekly at an Extendicare facility for a few years. It never ceased to amaze me how their soft brown eyes and swishing tail could brighten up a room. As my girls aged and began to slow down, I realized I needed to start planning for the coming years. We welcomed a saucy little Sheltie into our home and named her Maggie. Maggie became the foundation dog for Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC). She was the perfect therapy dog and she had the “right stuff”. Her instincts were always bang on. Somehow Maggie knew who needed a few extra minutes to snuggle and cuddle or who wanted to just give only a quick pat. Maggie was great at showing the new dogs how to act and visit on their monitored visits. Maggie produced five beautiful puppies and we kept two of them. Angus and Tessa were my 4th and 5th therapy dogs. The seniors had a good laugh trying to guess which Sheltie I brought that day. I think there may have been some wagering going on!
In October 1999, we were transferred to Hawkesbury, Ontario and though I wanted to continue visiting there really wasn’t any formal pet visitation program in the area. I had five therapy dogs in my home that needed to be kept active. So slowly the concept of a less paramilitary type of therapy pet visitation program began to percolate in my mind. Along with five fellow therapy pet volunteers, the first TPOC Team was launched. Nikki Leny was one of the five and she is still a member today.
The years flew by and Maggie, Tessa and Angus joined Tammy and Jasmine at the Rainbow Bridge. We welcomed Laddie, a gorgeous little male Sheltie, into our home but he just couldn’t settle enough to pass the evaluation. He didn’t do anything terribly wrong but he just wasn’t therapy pet material. I applaud the evaluator that had the insight and conviction to fail Laddie. It must have been awkward for her to fail the TPOC Founder’s dog but she made the right decision. I needed a therapy dog and that’s when Merit, a beautiful little Papillon, came into our lives. He was a sweetheart and what a charmer. Merit was all of ten pounds so he was just the right size to fit on a senior’s lap. Merit and I visited as much as we could, but other TPOC duties took up a lot of my time. Our visiting schedule wasn’t nearly as active as with the other dogs.
On September 24th, 2016 I stepped away from the duties as TPOC Chair and I am really looking forward to visiting with Missy, my first TPOC therapy cat. I’m sure Missy thinks she is a dog. She is very social and comes running to meet anyone who visits us. She is very insistent that everyone pet her which I am told is unusual for a cat. Missy rules the house and she kept Laddie and Merit in line. Missy is the only pet in our home at this time. I’m beginning to give a lot of thought to welcoming another small lap dog breed into our home.
I believe every person should contribute and give back to their community. I can’t think of anything more beneficial to a community, to the pet, to the senior or child and to the volunteer than participating in therapy pet visitation. The 600 dedicated TPOC volunteers across Canada are providing a wonderful service to their community. Bravo and thanks to each of you!
IN THE BEGINNING... THE BIRTH AND FLOURISHING OF A PET THERAPY ORGANIZATION: as told by Judy Sauvé, Founder of TPOC