Paws-itive Mental Health

This April through June, ‘What’s your balance?’ is shifting the focus to Mental Wellness. This month, we’re specifically talking about self-care through our 30 Day Self-Care Challenge, in addition to showcasing the benefits that our four legged friends have on our mental health. Meet some of them below!

It’s a long known fact that pets have a paws-itive effect on the mental health of their owners and those around them. The simple act of petting and stroking a pet has been proven to help ease tensions and provide a calming effect that ultimately can improve our mental wellbeing.

 At Alberta Health Services there are 295 registered volunteers who join us with their furry companions through various pet therapy and pet visitation programs across the province. These unique volunteers offer a welcome distraction to those in care by providing an opportunity of a non-judgmental social interaction, accompanied by unconditional love and patience.

During the 2017-18 fiscal year, our four-legged volunteers made close to 4000 visits to people of all ages at over 85 AHS sites and facilities, contributing an astounding 948,000 hours.

National Pet Day was April 11, 2018 and was the purr-fect opportunity to introduce some of our most gentle volunteers and share their stories of bringing comfort and joy to our people, and the patients and families we serve.

Please join them now through June, and share how your pet supports your mental health by posting your photos and stories of your pets on social media using the hashtag #AHSwhatsyourbalance.

“I have come to see the joy that each pet can bring to not only the patients, but their families and caregivers. My dogs range from the quiet comfort that a Bichon Frise can give by just lying on someone’s lap, to the joy a Golden brings by requesting a belly rub. It is a brief respite and escape that our pets bring.”

Laura Williams, Farley (Bichon Frise), Darwin (Golden Retriever), AHS volunteers, Alberta Children’s Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“I love seeing my dogs bringing a bit of joy and happiness to another person's day.”

Crystal Caradonna, with her Border Collies, Kenya and Skye, AHS Volunteers, Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“The smiles and joy Hachi brings to those who are suffering are extremely heartwarming and also humbling, because I definitely would not have the same effect if I was visiting on my own.”

Angel Garcia and Hachi (mix breed), AHS Volunteers, Royal Alexandra Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Kingsley has spent many hours at the willow creek over the past year visiting with the residents which he enjoys as much as I do. I have watched residents who have had trouble remembering their own names but always remember him. I have witnessed residents whose mood completely change when he shows up for a visit. Staff enjoy the visits as much as the residents do - boosting moral with a couple precious minutes spend during a stressful and demanding day can make all the difference.”

Kingsley (French Bulldog) and Natasha Mcauley, AHS nursing attendant and pet visitor volunteer, Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

June Thompson and her poodle, Sachi, provides regular visits to the patients at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre the past 10 years.  They have been a dedicated volunteer offering a friendly visit to many patients through the pet visitation program.

June Thompson and Sachi (Poodle), AHS Volunteers, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Pet therapy visits are for many patients, an unexpected and happy event.  It is our chance to help them temporarily put aside their worries, and just concentrate on hanging out with, and petting a dog.  The visit is an opportunity, for a few minutes, for them to take their minds off the reason they are in hospital, and if we can make them smile - we've done our job!”

Glen Gross and Misha (Border Collie), AHS Volunteers, Royal Alexandra Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

 “Pet therapy is the best job I have ever had. I love my dogs and by sharing them with patients I get great big smiles, stories of their dogs and sometimes tears, but good tears. I hear comments like ‘you just made my day.’ It doesn’t matter if it is patients, staff or visitors, it’s the same result – smiles, joy, and a sense of calmness.”

Karen O'Brien, with Golden Retrievers Rook and Mia, AHS volunteers, South Health Campus

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

Lily and I thoroughly enjoy being a PALS Volunteer. We love the interaction with new people, old and young. When we walk into any facility, whether to visit with children, teenagers, adults or seniors, the first thing we see are the big smiles.”

Jane Holbrook and Lily (Golden Retriever), AHS Volunteers, Alberta Children’s Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“As a certified handler and volunteer at the Chinook Regional Hospital I find volunteering my time alongside my four legged best friends, an enriching volunteer experience.

Therapy dogs offer unconditional love, stress relief, and also have a calming effect on the people they visit. Pet therapy is a way for people, in lonely, stressful, or traumatic situations to experience companionship with the pets by lifting spirits, lessening the feelings of depression and isolation, and reduce anxiety. These therapy dogs also provide a non-stressful, non -judgemental environment for the patients we visit.

Our simple hallmark is to give of our love, bring a smile, and make a committed difference with every single person we meet and visit.”

Angeline McDonald and Cisko (German Shepard), AHS Volunteers, Chinook Regional Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Loki is my girl, my second child, my sidekick. She and I are closely bonded, and she brings such joy to my life - she's great company throughout the day, when I would otherwise be alone, and provides constant companionship and entertainment.

I love bringing Loki to the hospital to share her joyful spirit with patients.  It's not uncommon to have heads pop out of rooms or around corners when they hear the jingle of her tags coming down the hall.  She's gentle and unassuming when visiting patients, giving them a buddy to snuggle, an outlet to tell stories about their own pets, and a bit of sunshine on what could be a tough day.

With that said, I think my favourite part of volunteering with the pet therapy program is the joy Loki brings to the staff.  Working in a hospital can be stressful and demanding, and Loki lights up their day. Visiting with Loki gives staff a moment to decompress and take a breather.  She's bonded with many of them, and to see both Loki and the staff members get so excited to see each other is really fulfilling - I know she's a bright spot in everyone's day!”

Shannon Lane and Loki (Rottweiler – Doberman mix), AHS Volunteers, South Health Campus

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“I don’t think there are enough words to describe the value of pet therapy. I have seen Baxter create special bonds with children who have been hospitalized for months; seen children smile for the first time in days; and witnessed parents break down in tears watching as their child, who was considered immobile and unresponsive, reaches out to touch the dog. It’s moments like these that make you realize the power of pet therapy.”

Julia Phillips and Baxter (Labrador Retriever), AHS Volunteers, Alberta Children’s Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

As we walk into the hospital to meet our team, Fergus just beams with excitement - he knows why he’s there.  My heart is always full when I see the smiles that we bring staff, parents, visitors and most importantly, the children, just by stepping through the doors. If we can bring a moment of love, compassion and distraction from the reality of a situation, that is simply the most gratifying thing to me.  Animals have a special way of making us forget the stress and pain that we could be feeling, even for a few minutes and in doing so, change our outlook for the day. When people thank me for coming and 'letting' them pat Fergus, I say that is what we are there for.  I feel that we are there to give love, strength, courage, take away negativity or sadness.

Sheila Duguid and Fergus (Sheepadoodle), AHS Volunteers, Alberta Children's Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Pet volunteering is invaluable, particularly in a rural facility where the majority of residents spent their lives devoted to agriculture. They have a special connection with animals and the time they spend reminiscing is therapeutic. I enjoy the opportunity to share my love of horses and give back to my community.”

Dana Cummings and Diablo (Shetland Pony), AHS Volunteers Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“The therapy dogs provide comfort, relieve stress but most noticeably they make patients and their families smile.”

Peggy Forgeron and Avery (Golden Retriever), AHS Volunteers, Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre & Ronald McDonald House.

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“I see the value in each visit and the pure joy that Cowboy gives so naturally. He has made so many friends and his visits are so looked forward to, by patients and staff. He can relax the patient and remind them of better times. He brings back memories of their dogs and lets the patient express their feelings outside of the clinical setting. He also does a lot for the staff of each facility and brings a welcomed break from the stress of their jobs.”

Arnie Dunsmore and Cowboy (Australian Labradoodle), AHS Volunteers, Sturgeon Community Hospital, Alberta Hospital, and Covenant Care

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“I think pet visitation is important because many people in the hospital have pets at home who can’t come visit them, and it can mean the world to the patients having a little pal like Tammie come in and spend time with them.”

Conrad Auch and Tammie (Chihuahua), AHS Volunteers, Rockyview General Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Pet therapy brings a method of healing that only a pet can bring.  Once while I was walking down the hall with Tempe and a young patient, the mother told me that it was the first time her daughter had moved her arm since having surgery.    Animals have a way of assisting patients to become mobile in ways they weren’t comfortable with before.  To see the joy Tempe gives to a patient whose life circumstances are challenging is the reason why I volunteer.”

Carol Weisbrod and Tempe (Australian Labradoodle), AHS Volunteers, Stollery Children’s Hospital & University of Alberta Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“No matter how bad my day has been, taking one of my dogs on a PALS visit makes it all better.  When Wooly or Tully climbs into a patients’ lap, I can see a bond forming. The dogs melt into the human; the human melts into the dog -  and it just melts my heart!  No words need to be spoken, it's all about the physical touch.”

Jennifer James with her Wheaten Terriers, Wooly and Tully, AHS Volunteers, South Health Campus

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“Scout and I have volunteered in High River for three years now. I certainly don’t have any one story on how our visits change lives, however I am always amazed to see how pets bring out memories and open the conversations with those in care. Many of the people in High River are farmers and have always had large dogs. They seem so comfortable with Scout and I love watching them interact with her.”

Jay Butler and Scout (Malamute cross), AHS Volunteers, High River General Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay

“The patients respond to the pet therapy dogs quickly and interact with them freely and with joy. Most of the patients had a pet when they were growing up or before they left their home to come to the hospital. They have great love and trust petting and talking to the pets. They bring back memories or create a new experience if they didn’t have a pet.

I enjoy the smiles and happiness that we bring with every visit. The patients eagerly wait for us to arrive every visit. I know my pet makes a difference. Charlie’s work is valued and I love that he is so loved and appreciated by the patients and staff. I look forward to all our visits with both long term patients and new patients. Their stories and conversations are precious to me and my dog.”

Cheryl Herperger and Charlie (Golden Retriever), AHS Volunteers, Rockyview General Hospital

#AHSwhatsyourbalance #NationalPetDay