View Royal resident Beverly Luiken (left) and Diane Edwards, with Island Health, pet four-year-old Morley the labradoodle in the playroom of the pediatric unit at Victoria General Hospital. Luiken and Morley are part of St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog program, which recently expanded its services to the peds unit. (Kendra Wong /News Gazette staff)

Therapy dogs have pawsitive benefits on young patients

Program expanded to VGH’s pediatric unit in the fall

Every other Tuesday, Morley is the centre of attention in the playroom of Victoria General Hospital’s pediatric unit.

It’s the type of attention the four-year-old labradoodle doesn’t mind – pets, scratches and belly rubs from kids and teenagers as he lounges on the cool blue floor of the small playroom in the north tower of the hospital.

“I think it’s got to be really hard for kids to come into the hospital and leave everything, their family, their pets, all the familiar things at home,” said Beverly Luiken, a View Royal resident and Morley’s owner and handler. “It’s a diversion from the seriousness of whatever’s going on.”

Luiken and Morley are part of St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog program – Morley even has an ID card to prove it. As part of the program, certified therapy dogs and their handlers visit patients in Island Health facilities around Greater Victoria to provide a friendly visit and talk about life beyond facility walls.

RELATED: VIDEO: Therapy dogs make students happier, study finds

Twice a month for the past two years, Luiken and Morley have visited patients at The Heights at Mt. View, a seniors care facility. In the fall the program expanded its services to young patients, both kids and youth, who have been admitted to VGH’s pediatric unit for mental health reasons.

A few months ago, the pair also started doing drop-in visits to 911 dispatchers at the call centre in Langford as well.

On this particular Tuesday at the hospital, Luiken and Morley wait patiently on the floor as a young girl enters the room.

She’s hesitant at first, but as soon as she sits next to Morley and begins petting him, her mood and demeanour changes.

Luiken and the girl chat about her family, how she hated being in cars and strollers when she was younger, and her love for her own dog, as she pets Morley and adjusts his red and white St. John Ambulance therapy dog kerchief. He even gently touches his paw to her leg.

“Morley clearly loves this,” Luiken said. “He just listens and doesn’t judge … It’s very rewarding.”

RELATED: Therapy dogs make appearance at B.C. Games

Luiken worked as an oncology nurse for several years in Calgary, before she and her husband retired and moved to Victoria. Shortly after, the family got Morley and Luiken started looking for ways to get back into the health care environment.

When Morley turned two, the pair went through two rigorous evaluations – one to become a part of the therapy dog program, and a second to work specifically with children. And they haven’t looked back since.

For many young patients, that 15-minute session twice a month is a brief break from reality.

“I think kids in hospitals are missing their family pet a lot, but what’s even more important is those kids with mental health admissions who are having a lot of challenges, it’s very therapeutic and calming to see a dog like Morley who is so accepting, so mellow and just loves to be pet,” said Diane Edwards, a child life specialist with Island Health.

“You can see it in the children’s faces when they come in. It’s a beautiful moment in their visit. These kids could be here for days or weeks or they could come in more than once and it is a bright, happy part of their day.”

For more information on the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program visit sja.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

Just Posted

Watchdog calls for probe into police board spending on ex-Victoria police chief

Police Complaint Commissioner says accountable and transparent review is in public interest

Postal strike affects charities at critical fundraising time

Canadian fundraising professionals and charities join call for fast resolution

Santa’s parade set to light up Victoria

37th Island Farms Santa’s Light Parade rolls down Government Street Saturday

Victoria-based warship rescues two more sea turtles

HMCS Edmonton credited with a turtle rescue earlier in November

VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium surveying spread and threat of microplastics

“Plastics never actually go away, they break down to smaller and smaller pieces.”

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

$90,000 pen from space created by B.C man

The Space pen is made from a meteorite

POLL: Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?

The Christmas lights are twinkling and holiday music is playing in local… Continue reading

B.C. woman fined $2,300 for clocking 215 km/hr in Alberta

It’s the highest fine Alberta police have issued

VIDEO: Ucluelet Aquarium surveying spread and threat of microplastics

“Plastics never actually go away, they break down to smaller and smaller pieces.”

South Korean named Interpol president in blow to Russia

South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang was elected as Interpol’s president edging out a longtime veteran of Russia’s security services.

E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickens 18 people in Ontario, Quebec

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it’s working with U.S. authorities to determine the source of the romaine lettuce those who got ill were exposed to.

Trump defies calls to punish crown prince for writer’s death

The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

Most Read