Therapy Dogs at the Juravinski Cancer Centre
An initiative with a difference was introduced to the Juravinski Cancer Centre in December 2001. Four St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs and their handlers were warmly welcomed to the Centre at a Supportive Care Holiday Open House before they began their official duties on December 10, 2001.
Therapy dogs have become almost commonplace in hospitals and long-term care facilities across Canada; however, the JCC was the first cancer centre to open its doors to these four-legged friends in Ontario. In 2002, the accreditation team made special mention of the therapy dog program and its positive impact on patients at the JCC.
The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program is a volunteer community service provided by St. John Ambulance, a not for profit registered charity funded through United Way. The Therapy Dog division was established in 1992 in Peterborough.
The team of dog and handler must complete an extensive screening and evaluation process prior to being approved for the program. The dog is tested for temperament and needs to display consistent, reliable and disciplined behaviour with people, other dogs and in crowded, noisy or threatening circumstances. Each dog must be certified by their veterinarian to participate in the program and have annual health checks and current vaccinations on file. The handler is assessed for suitability as well and must have a successful Police Record check on file. Each dog and owner team is supervised on a minimum of their first 4 visits to their assigned facility. Both the dogs and handlers that eventually visit at the JCC are handpicked.
Dogs and owners wear uniforms and I.D. badges clearly identifying them with the St. John Ambulance program. During the visit, the handler assesses the interest, willingness and readiness of the client/patient population. If an individual shows or states reticence, the handler and dog move on to another location. Every dog remains on their leash, under control and at the side of their owner during the entire visit within the facility.
At the JCC, the dog and handler visit in the waiting areas throughout the Centre. Many, many dogs and their handlers have sat with untold patients and families listening and comforting them as they await treatments or consultations with their oncologist. As the dogs make their rounds throughout the Centre, patients momentarily forget their angst or their pain, while visiting with a Therapy Dog.