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Puppy love: 16 new 'furry recruits' join dog therapy program at BC Children's Hospital (PHOTOS)

"Staff are given the chance to slow down, be present and receive some unconditional love from a dog."

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has offered a small silver lining for the staff at BC Children’s Hospital: the streamlining of the hospital’s therapy dog intake process.

The BC Children’s Hospital Pet Therapy program is welcoming new therapy dogs to become part of the hospital’s team of spirit uplifting puppies. Through a collaboration with canine community partners and the BC Children's Hospital Foundation, 16 therapy dogs are being brought on board through the Pet Therapy program presented by PetSmart Charities of Canada. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, program coordinators Lisa Knight and Cynthia Vallance found creative ways to continue pet visits with patients, families and staff. Those who needed some unconditional puppy love could do so in outdoor patio visits as well as Zoom events. However, Knight and Vallance have taken the program a step further by streamlining BC Children's Hospital’s intake process so that these new furry recruits can bring more puppy love to hospital staff.

"With fewer direct patient visits during the pandemic, Lisa and I saw the opportunity to connect our pet therapy teams with staff," Vallance said. "So far, the response has been fantastic and we continue to witness the healing power of pet therapy.”

"Staff are given the chance to slow down, be present and receive some unconditional love from a dog," Knight said. "I see colleagues come together to smile and laugh with each other. I hear comments like, 'This is just what I needed' and 'I can't stop smiling.'"

The Canine Good Neighbour test

The streamlining came in the form of a test established to directly accept applications to the pet therapy program called the Canine Good Neighbour test.

This summer, the 16 determined pups went through the 12-step, non-competitive test to assesses the handler and dog's relationship and their ability to perform basic exercises and demonstrate good manners. Not all the dogs passed, but the hospital states they are welcome to come back to try again.

"This is going to allow us to recruit and increase the number of pet therapy teams that we can bring to our campus," said Vallance. "And in doing so, we can continue to develop something special for our Pets Assisting with Wellness for Staff (PAWS) initiative."

After passing the Canine Good Neighbour test, the especially good dogs can go on to complete their Assessment for Child Engagement (ACE) test. This secondary evaluation ensures they are OK working with patients and interacting in a broader way within a hospital environment. 

Do you think you and your pup would make a great volunteering duo? Get in touch with the hospital volunteer resources at [email protected] or check out the BC Children’s Hospital website.