Window visits became a solution for St. John Ambulance therapy dogs as they visit care homes in the Comox Valley. Photo submitted.

St. John Ambulance therapy dogs continue to spread joy despite COVID

“It is so nice for our residents to know that life continues on beyond our care community.”

The St. John Ambulance Comox Valley therapy dog team has found a way to safely provide moments of comfort and joy to care home residents within our distanced reality.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the local St. John Ambulance therapy dog program provided weekly visits to various care homes, as well as schools and occasional events. Once the virus hit, these duties were paused, and as months passed, the dogs, their handlers, and the residents they visited started to miss the impact of a wagging tail. This led to their solution to begin window visits.

“Many of the handlers expressed that they missed the visitation. So did the residents, they wish they could pat the dogs and can’t wait until they are able to again. However, the residents are sure happy to see the pups, even through the window,” said Maria Chow, therapy dog unit facilitator for St. John Ambulance Comox Valley.

Their first window visit was held at Cumberland Lodge on July 28, and then another at Glacier View Lodge on Aug. 5. When visiting, the pups wave a paw from outside residents’ windows, perform a few tricks, and frequently show up in fun, colourful costumes.

To keep everyone safe, face masks are required for the handlers, and there is no touching allowed of any doors or windows. When a window is needed to be opened for the residents to see a dog, the facility staff open it for them.

“Glacier View Lodge residents were very excited to welcome back some four-legged friends and their two-legged partners! Having visitors, even though they must remain at a distance, improves our spirits and reassures us that our friends are safe and well,” said Liz Friis, director of resident lifestyle & community programs at Glacier View Lodge. “It is so nice for our residents to know that life continues on beyond our care community. Even a short visit is an act of kindness, and brings great joy.”

While the dogs (and residents) may miss the ear scratches and back rubs, they are just happy to be back out in any form to help their communities.

“For the first couple of weeks of the pandemic when the program was paused, my dog would wait at the door on Tuesday, which was our scheduled day for visitation, expecting to head out to see everyone. So she was excited when I finally pulled out her bandana again,” said Chow.

The Comox Valley therapy dog team is currently planning more window visits to different care home facilities while physical distancing applies.

Learn more and support the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program at supportsja.ca/therapydogs, and request their services by emailingbcy.volunteer@sja.ca.

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