Senior residents warm up to pet-therapy program

“Copper,” a six-year-old Shih Tzu-Bichon cross dog, is a bit of a celebrity and a popular visitor

Heritage House resident Bill Lane is one of many lodge residents who enjoy Copper’s visits each week. Holding Copper is owner and dog therapy volunteer Carolyn George.

“Copper,” a six-year-old Shih Tzu-Bichon cross dog, is a bit of a celebrity and a popular visitor at Stettler’s two extended-care facilities.

Copper, along with owner Carolyn George, alternate visiting Heritage House and Pine Ridge one evening per week.

They’re part of St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog program and have been making the visits since August.

When some of the residents see Copper arrive, their eyes light up, they smile and extend their hands to pet him, George said.

She said seeing a dog is stimulating for the residents and brightens their day.

“Some who don’t speak much will speak more when a dog is in sight.

“I will talk to the residents about when they had pets and it sparks memory. They look forward to the visits and the next time I come, some will say, ‘Oh, I remember my dog’s name, now.’ ”

George said Copper had to pass a two-and-a-half-hour St. John Ambulance test to ensure he was suitable for the program.

He had to be able to tolerate noise, quick movements and not jump up on people.

George said they’re both required to wear a recognizable uniform at the hospital. In Copper’s case, it’s a red bandana with “therapy dog” written on it.

Copper is a “people-dog” and enjoys the outpouring of affection of being petted and touched, George said.

Copper can perform tricks for the entertainment pleasure of the residents —in return for treats.

When George asks the residents if they want Copper to come back, it’s usually answered with a resounding, “Oh, yeah!”

George volunteers her time to bring Copper to the care centres each week For doing so, she was recognized at Stettler’s Volunteer Week appreciation event earlier this spring.

The hospital operates a pet program similar to the St. John program.

If others want to participate in the program, they can receive more information from Gail Benjamin, co-ordinator of volunteer resources, at 403-740-8565.

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