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Therapy dogs visit North Okanagan COVID-19 vaccine clinic to help calm needle anxiety

Click to play video: 'Therapy dogs visit clinic to help calm needle anxiety' Therapy dogs visit clinic to help calm needle anxiety
WATCH: A Vernon immunization clinic is hosting some special guests this month. Therapy dogs will be spending time each week at the North Okanagan location. It’s all part of an effort to help those who are anxious about needles to get their COVID-19 immunizations.

Ten-year-old labradoodle Cooper is doing his part to make it easier for those nervous about needles to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

The St. John Ambulance therapy dog is spending part of each Saturday at the vaccine clinic inside the Vernon Recreation Centre.

“We were contacted by Interior Health and asked if we could come and bring a moment of joy to people while they are getting their vaccines or afterwards just to make the experience just a little bit better,” said Faye Anstey, Cooper’s handler and a unit facilitator for the local St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

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Anstey said on the labradoodle’s first day, this past Saturday, both staff and patients were excited to see the the pup in action.

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“The nurses said that there was actually a couple people that mentioned that they really appreciated having the dog there while they got their shot. [It’s] a little bit of a distraction as they just reached down and pet Cooper and he kisses their hand while they are getting the shot,” Anstey said.

Read more: Vernon sees drop in new infections as Kelowna’s case count rises (Oct. 1, 2021)

Registered professional counsellor Wendy Blancher say some level of needle anxiety is very common and for some the phobia can be serious enough that they avoid medical care.

“Therapy dogs are a great distraction. This is an evidence based practice to bring them into situations that are high anxiety. Therapy dogs promote the release of lots of mood-boosting chemicals and they are effective in calming people who are anxious and overly stressed,” Blancher said.

Blancher said strategies for overcoming needle phobia to get a shot include using deep breathing exercises or internal mantras.

“One that is very common when you are afraid is even, ‘I’m afraid right now. I know I can be calm,’ and repeating that to yourself as a distraction rather than mindreading about how horrible the experience is going to be,” Blancher said.

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Blancher said having therapy dogs at clinics could also help when those who are vaccine-resistant come in to get vaccinated.

“That group might be coming in with another whole series of emotions that therapy dogs would help calm, people who are mandated to get vaccinations to continue to work at a job,” Blancher said.

Cooper and another therapy dog will continue their Vernon visits through to the end of October.

After that, his handler expects to line up more dates at other clinics in the southern interior.

“Cooper’s fully vaccinated. He is used to getting his shots, so he can be there to help support you through it,” Anstey said.

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