The St.John Ambulance Comox Valley therapy dog team has found a way to safely provide moments of comfort and joy to care home residents.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the dogs would provide weekly visits to various care homes, as well as schools and occasional events. 

Once the virus hit, however, these duties were paused and as months passed, the dogs, their handlers, and the residents they visited started to miss the impact of a wagging tail. 

Maria Chow, therapy dog unit facilitator for St. John Ambulance Comox Valley explains that the team was able to come up with ‘window visitations’ as a solution. 

“Many of the handlers expressed that they missed the visitation. So did the residents, they wish they could pat the dogs and can’t wait until they are able to again. However, the residents are sure happy to see the pups, even through the window,” said Chow.

Their first window visit was held at Cumberland Lodge on July 28th, and then another at Glacier View Lodge on August 5th. When visiting, the pups waved a paw from outside residents’ windows, performed a few tricks, and frequently showed up in fun, colourful costumes.

To keep everyone safe, face masks are required for the handlers, and there is no touching allowed of any doors or windows. When a window is opened for the residents to see a dog, the facility staff open it for them.

Director of resident lifestyle and community programs at Glacier View Lodge, Liz Friis, says the residents loved being able to see the dogs, even if they couldn’t pet them. 

“Glacier View Lodge residents were very excited to welcome back some four-legged friends and their two-legged partners! Having visitors, even though they must remain at a distance, improves our spirits and reassures us that our friends are safe and well,” said Friis.

 “It is so nice for our residents to know that life continues on beyond our care community. Even a short visit is an act of kindness, and brings great joy.”

The Comox Valley therapy dog team is currently planning more window visits to different care home facilities while physical distancing still applies. 

To learn more and to support the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program, visit supportsja.ca/therapydogs

You can request a physically-distanced visit by emailing bcy.volunteer@sja.ca