Paws and Effect: How Pet Therapy is Making a Difference

Puppy love. Therapy animals improve quality of life, providing relief from stress and distraction from pain – even helping to lower blood pressure.

For more than two decades, Toronto’s innovative Baycrest has had a pet therapy program for residents living with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Both owners and pets are certified by St. John Ambulance or Therapeutic Paws of Canada. These dogs must be calm and confident in the presence of crowds, other dogs, wheelchairs or canes and display no aggression.

Visits with the therapy animals improve quality of life, providing relief from stress and distraction from pain – even helping to lower blood pressure.

Click through to find out about the people and pooches who are making a difference.

Miriam BernathMIRIAM BERNATH, 49, and six-year-old Belgian Malinois Henna

“Volunteering gives you a sense of pride that you have contributed both to your dog’s life and someone else’s,” says Bernath.

“It makes you feel good to make people happy just by seeing your dog. Some dogs are really empathetic to others’ disabilities and discomforts. It seems to make dogs happy and gives them a sense of purpose although it’s really mentally draining on the dogs to be social to a lot of people in a row.”

SherylSHERYL ERENBERG, 55, and four-year-old basset hound Ozzie

He is such a laid-back dog that Ozzie often sleeps on the sidewalk outside the Erenberg home. People will stop their cars to get out to check that he’s okay.

“The hardest part,” says Erenberg, “is when a resident you visit every week passes away, and Ozzie turns to go into their room, but they are no longer there or the door is shut. That’s really sad.”

 

Nicole HimelNICOLE HIMEL, 47, and three-year-old golden retriever Marlowe

“Marlowe loves to go to work,” says Himel. “When I tell her we’re going, she spins around excitedly, waiting for me to put her vest on. It’s a different reaction from when I say, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ When we come home, Marlowe sleeps for hours. She’s tired out to the core.

“I’m fairly certain the moment we leave, the patients forget about us but, for that moment we’re here, there’s joy. Be it three or five or 10 minutes, they speak, they ask questions, they are present for that moment.”