Rambo and Scamp trot down the halls of the Dr. Cooke Extended Care Centre. The two visitors pant and wag their tails as they see residents waiting for them along the corridor.
Keeping up with the dachshund and Labrador retriever are owners Rochelle Horne and Jean Wobeser, of the Lloydminster Kennel and Obedience Club. For over 20 years, members of the Kennel Club have been making monthly visits to the Dr. Cooke centre for “dog therapy.” The dogs and their owners approach willing residents in the halls and in their rooms and let them interact with the animals.
“I like seeing the reaction when they engage with the dog,” Horne said. “They really look forward to it. One lady asked if we can come every day. I told her I’d have to quit my job.”
Dr. Cooke activity convener Kim Randall says the dogs have a therapeutic effect on the facility’s residents. She says some residents may be generally unresponsive around others, but the animals’ presence can prompt activity and awareness.
“It’s bringing back a familiar thing in their lives,” Randall said. “Most people have had a dog, either on the farm or in the house, and it reaches people that you can’t do other things with. They aren’t able to speak, but you know that the dog has made a difference because they’re smiling and patting the dog.”
Horne says coming to the facility is fun and fulfilling for the dogs as well.
“Rambo pulls me from the car to get inside,” Horne said. “It’s free love for them and they get fed on multiple occasions.”
Wobeser says she has had four therapy dogs, and Scamp, who is turning 10 years old, has been coming to the Dr. Cooke centre since she was a puppy. Kennel club dogs are all trained in obedience and have stable temperament around people and other dogs.
“Some of the residents buy treats for them at the end of their visit and they just meet in the lobby and give them a couple treats,” Randall said. “Sometimes they hop up on their bed or in the wheelchair. It’s more of an emotional response.”
Randall says the dog visits are just one program to keep residents active. She says initiatives like inviting guests to come to the centre and bringing residents to public events are all aimed at normalizing life for people in long-term care and ensuring that they remain part of the community.
“(The goal is) to bring a quality of life, to make them whole,” she said. “This is not a place to just sit in your room, it’s to provide a social environment.”