Many of us have experienced the calming effects of a pet curling up on our laps, snuggling in, and just enjoying the togetherness. While a contented cat has a calming effect, it often comes close to its owner to receive the attention, not to give attention.
However, our canine buddies have a very unique and special way to give affection in the gentlest of ways, a soft nudge with a wet nose, or a friendly foot resting on top of our own, simply flopping down right beside us almost pushing us over, or a doggie face resting on our leg and peering up at us with those big brown eyes, as if to say, 'I hear ya' it's been kind of a bummer day ...'
The PATDogs Dog Therapy team is a growing group of dog handlers and their canine partners that help folks of all ages, including children, relax and feel comfort and care through interaction with these pets. Currently there are about a dozen dog teams in the PATDogs program based in Brandon, taking steps to recruit more teams. They have been endorsed as the primary provider of therapy dog teams for Prairie Mountain Health, and for Project Resilience 911 (a peer support group for front line responders) as well as other venues and events.
Brandon resident, Ngaire Abernathy, and her 6-year-old long-haired Weimaraner, Tai, are involved in this local dog therapy program with Ngaire at the helm of this very caring organization of dog lovers, and people lovers, truly recognizing the bond between people and 'man's best friend'.
Abernathy is a retired/casual social worker with Prairie Mountain Health and has used her 30 years of training and experience in crisis response to take the lead in developing the PATDogs Therapy Dog program. She is also a volunteer with Project Resilience 911 and is the Area Coordinator for the Canadian-Manitoba region with HOPE Animal-Assisted Crises Response. She is also one of the three HOPE team leaders in Brandon.
"It's been our long-time goal to expand HOPE into Canada," she explains. "We now have one HOPE certified dog, Sarg, and 3 team leaders in Brandon. These are therapy dogs who have significantly more training and skill in dealing with crisis situations. We have a number of our PATDogs team who are working towards that. But our goal is to expand that team as well."
A HOPE therapy dog must be in the PATDogs program for at least one year before meeting the eligibility criteria, and there is special training that a HOPE dog and its handler must complete. The first HOPE deployment in Canada was in Carberry earlier this summer after the tragic bus crash on the Trans-Canada Highway. The HOPE team was also involved in follow-up visits after in both Dauphin and Carberry.
To qualify as a HOPE dog, the duo must complete a 3-day workshop. The first day is mental health focused, providing psychological first aid in a crises situation so that the handlers feel more competent. The second day is focused on supporting the dog during the therapy session, watching for signs of stress in your dog, how to take care of the dog in challenging environments where there is a lot of intense emotion (such as a fire or flood reception centre). Day 3 is practical experience where the teams go to group settings such as a Fire Hall or airport security.
All of the PATDogs canine/handler teams are certified by Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) which you can find at www.therapydogs.com. Once certified, they also must meet the requirements to become a volunteer at each venue in which they work.
If you're interested in you and your doggy-buddy becoming a PATDog Therapy Dog, don't hesitate to reach out and ask questions. You never know, you and your best friend with floppy ears might be just what the doctor ordered for a patient or a personal care home resident.
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