Special visitor brings smiles to Saskatoon emergency ward

SASKATOON – For most people, a visit to the emergency ward in the hospital can be the worst day of their life. Now, a special visitor at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon is making that stay a little more bearable.

Murphy, a two-year-old Springer Spaniel, is the first St. John Ambulance therapy dog to visit an emergency ward in Canada. The hospital embraced the program around a month ago, welcoming Murphy and his handler, Jane Smith, into the ward once a week, for a few hours at a time.

“This guys was so calm from the day he was born,” said Smith. “I knew right away he could be a candidate for a therapy dog, and I could volunteer with him.”

WATCH: Murphy and Jane are the first therapy dog team from St. John Ambulance to visit an emergency ward in Canada. Joelle Tomlinson looks at what it means for patients and staff

Research indicates that interaction with dogs like Murphy are a natural way to make people feel better. It even results in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, meaning the calming effect of Murphy can actually be measured.

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READ MORE: University of Saskatchewan helping students cope with stress

All interactions are supervised by a clinical coordinator, adding hours to their day, which they say is “worth it”.

“Patients and their families are immediately calmer,” said Dr. James Stempien, RUH emergency department head. “There’s a lot of good people here, nurses, doctors in emergency, and we just want to see the best for people.”

“This can be really stressful place, so Murphy is a good thing for us to have.”

Murphy and soft-spoken Jane are quickly becoming a favourite sight, not only for patients but for staff as well. Right now he visits the ward every Monday, but health region officials hope to expand its partnership with the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in the future.

If you are interested in volunteering with the hospital or St. John Ambulance, you can visit the website at

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