A program at Glengarry Hospital is helping patients work towards their physical goals with the help of some specially-trained canine friends.
Every Monday morning for the past year, Lisa Markin along with her two service dogs Rowan and Cajun, work with patients at the Fairfield hospital as part of INSPIRE Animal Assisted Therapy, a program that uses furry canine friends to help people of all ages suffering from chronic illnesses, degenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, recovering from strokes or car accidents or people with developmental disabilities such as autism.
“On the outside looking in, if you're a fly on the wall, it would just look like the dog is playing with the patient, but in actuality, the goals with the patients are very specific,” said Markin, a registered nurse and owner, operator of INSPIRE.
Unlike pet therapy when a volunteer brings their dogs for patients to meet and pet, Markin develops exercises that are specific to the patients' objectives, working on fine motor dexterity, gross motor skills, cognition and memory involving the dog.
“For example, if we had a patient who is working on standing endurance say after a car accident, we would put the dogs on a raised surface and do activities with the dog, such as brushing,” said Markin, adding that they work with the same patient for several weeks or even months in 20-40 minutes sessions.
“What I'll find is that people will be so engaged with the interactions with the dogs that they'll exceed their expectations . . . They'll work harder, they'll work longer at their exercises because they want to make the animal happy, they want to give them a treat.”
All the while, Markin is accessing the patient and documenting their progress.
The dogs themselves have shining personalities.
Rowan is an 11-year-old golden retriever, who loves cauliflower and is close to retirement, while Cajun is a four-year-old yellow lab who loves his kibble.
Both are canine assisted intervention dogs that went through roughly two years of training, learning 55 commands and passing a series of tests before they officially became certified service dogs through a school in Burnaby.
“These dogs are raised and trained by PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society) to specifically work with patients with physical disabilities other than blindness,” said Markin. “People are calmer with the dogs around, they're more engaged, they're more social and the biggest thing is that they're willing to try harder and longer with their therapy.”
Chris Charnell, a patient at Glengarry Hospital, has been working with the dogs for roughly a year and has learned several of the dogs' basic commands such as “leave it” (indicating that the dog should not touch a treat) and “release” (allowing the dog to each the treat).
“I think [Rowan] is lovely,” he said, adding that he likes playing a variety of games such as the fishing game and racket ball with the dogs. “They're just so faithful.”
Shelley Gurvey, manager residential services at Glengarry, said the program has benefited residents “immeasurably.”
“Our residents are distracted from their concerns and we find that most people love the dogs,” said Gurvey. “They are able to do things that if you just ask them outright like 'would you move this, would you open your hand' and they would say 'no' or 'I can't.' But when you get the dogs involved, the therapeutic results are immeasurable. It gives people true joy.”
Currently, Markin, Rowan and Cajun work at Glengarry once a week and twice a week at the Aberdeen Rehab Hospital (which is funded by the Greater Victoria Elder Care Foundation and Thrifty's). There are plans to expand to the West Shore Adult Day Program as well.