COCHRANE— Reminding close friends their furry companions miss their visits, volunteers from the Community Therapy Dogs Society visited Bethany Cochrane to deliver baskets of stuffed dogs bearing messages of love.
The day served as a chance to let residents know, that even though the dogs and their handlers are unable to visit in-person they are eager to once again reunite, said Lynn Giesler Seniors Homes Coordinator with Community Therapy Dogs Society.
“We’re just letting the residents know that after a long period of not having their therapy dogs come in and visit them, we haven’t forgotten about them,” Giesler said. “They’re in our hearts, they’re in our minds constantly.”
Volunteers from the society brought 20 stuffed dogs to Bethany Cochrane on Thursday (March 4). The stuffed animals were dropped off at the centre with help from long-time therapy dog Prada. Each stuffy bore handmade Community Therapy Dogs Society bandanas and a loving message for residents from the therapy dogs.
The stuffed dogs were briefly quarantined in the home before being handed out.
“A stuffy can’t take the place of the real thing, but we’re hoping they will bring some comfort to them,” Giesler said.
The Community Therapy Dogs Society was founded based on a vision of founders Marilyn and Steve King. There are three programs included in the Society that allow volunteer dogs and their handlers to connect with the community. Programs include visiting schools and providing reading programs, visiting libraries for reading programs and visiting seniors. The dogs and their handlers have also visited Points West Living Cochrane and Big Hill Lodge in the past.
The Society has more than 100 therapy dogs that have been assessed and registered.
Giesler has a 130-pound Leonberger named Gus who is working to become a therapy dog. The duo became involved with the group as a way to give back to the community and connect with an amazing group of people.
“This is a wonderful group of people,” Giesler said. “I have never met so many dedicated and soulful people as this group— Each and every one brings something different to the table.”
The dogs look forward to their visits, Giesler said, adding that as soon as the Community Therapy Dogs Society bandana comes out for them to wear, they become visibly excited and ready to work.
“During the pandemic, the dogs are feeling it and the handlers because they love and the connection that they have,” Giesler said.
The Community Therapy Dogs Society is always welcoming new volunteers, Giesler said, and encouraged any interested canine owners to visit the website ctds.ca for more information.
Bethany Cochrane administrator Monica Johnson said the stuffed dogs were a treasured gift for Bethany Cochrane residents.
"Pets are such a vital part of our residents' lives. It’s so integral to making them feel like this is a home,” Johnson said. “They really love the dogs. You can see the residents' faces right up when the dogs come in.”
She explained many residents who call Bethany home had farm dogs or pets at home, and the Community Therapy Dogs Society is always a welcomed visit.
The stuffies were a welcomed addition to the home, Johnson said, adding some residents were peeking out the window waving at Prada and her owner Chris Brealey when the gifts were delivered. Prior to COVID-19 the duo were weekly visitors to the site.
Community Therapy Dogs Society would regularly visit with residents before the introduction of COVID-19 public health measures. Anyone who wants to visit with the dogs has a little dog bone on their door welcoming the canine volunteers inside. The dogs typically visited the home about once a week.
Johnson said it has been amazing to see how the community has continued to find ways to connect with residents of Bethany Cochrane during the pandemic. The actions are made all the more meaningful, she said, because it remains unclear when public health measures will be eased.
These actions are important because helps people feel less alone in a time that has proven to be isolating for many, Johnson said.
“We don’t when or how restrictions will be lifted, so it’s really important to give that sense of normalcy for our residents and provide those little highlights in their day that’s going to make them feel that people out there care about them,” Johnson said. “They’re still part of the community, they’re still connected— It’s very meaningful for them.”