Equipped with their Interior Health Authority (IHA) tags, a trio of volunteers made the rounds in the geriatric ward at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) on Tuesday morning.
But these are no ordinary volunteers, they are therapy dogs that provide comfort and love to sick patients.
“Most of us are not wanting to be where we are, so it’s good to be here and good to be with the dogs. We love it,” said Ron Green, a 90-year-old patient currently at KGH.
The dogs and their volunteer handlers belong to a little-known organization called Pets and People Visiting Society.
“We are a very small society and we make a big difference in the community,” said Cindy Lewthwaite, president of Pets and People Visiting Society.
The organization was founded outside of the Okanagan in 1986 by Marjorie Rutherford, who introduced it to KGH in 1996.
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Since then, the program has expanded to include dog visits to a number of different places.
“Hospice house, cancer lodge, over 20 care facilities,” said volunteer and dog handler Sue Willis.
“We go to Okanagan College, we go to Central School, we go to the airport.”
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Willis has volunteered with the organization for 17 years.
Her Corgi dogs, Tobi and Elli, seem to enjoy the role of volunteering.
“They absolutely love to be busy,” Willis said. “If they could, they would make me take them to the hospital every day.”
While Willis admits the visits can be emotional, the reward far outweighs it.
“You meet someone who is mentally challenged and they have a smile on their face that is bigger than their hospital room. You know you’ve done something amazing,” she said.
“You get some people that they never had any visits and you’re the only visitor that you see, and they so look forward to seeing you.”
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Pauline Harmatny agrees. She and her Golden Doodle named Jeepster have been volunteering for nine years.
“Just to see a smile on somebody’s face or if we’re working out at the airport . . . and if you have a stressed passenger afraid of flying or children flying, the dogs just calm everyone down,” Harmatny said.
“You know a child who is sick in the hospital, it tugs at your heart strings. To have the dog come and the child doesn’t necessarily want to see the doctor or a nurse, a dog just calms the patient down and that is my reward.”
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The Pets and People Visiting Society has more than 45 volunteers, but it’s still not enough.
“Several care facilities are on a wait list because we don’t have enough volunteers with our organization to meet the needs that are going on,” Willisa said.
“Now that pet therapy is recognized as a therapy for care homes and for stress relief and mental issues and things like that, there’s now more demand for it in our community.”
Dog owners interested in becoming a volunteer must go through a screening process.
“You have to be recommended by your vet and you have to have a dog of a really good disposition, and then you attend a screening after you’ve completed all the paperwork,” Willis said.
“Then we screen you and your dog and how you and your dog interact with each other, and different scenarios that you would find at a care facility and with different scenarios with different hospital apparatuses.”
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The society relies on community donations to keep it running, and this weekend it will be the recipient of proceeds raised at a special fundraiser.
Called K9 and Wine, the event is being hosted by St. Hubertus Winery and a group called the Okanagan Bernese and Meetups.
K9 and Wine takes place on Sunday, June 9, at St. Hubertus winery starting at 11 a.m.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12.
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Attendees are welcome to bring their dogs. The event includes a walk through the vineyard, a glass of wine and a smokie lunch.
There will also be raffle prizes.
Proceeds will go directly to the Pets and People Visiting Society.
“It does take a little bit of money every year to run our society. We have to buy insurance for our handlers and their dogs, which is expensive and so it helps us,” Lewthwaite said.
“We are so thrilled they have chosen us this year to be given the proceeds of the fundraiser.”
Click here if you would like more information about the Pets and People Visiting Society or you would like to make a donation to the cause.