Pet Therapy

Mutual benefits galore

By Iris Winston | June 2019

The old man had not left his room at the seniors’ home for weeks. In fact, he rarely left his bed. Then Charlotte came to call. When the spaniel was due for a second visit, he sat in his wheelchair near the doorway of his room. By visit number three, he waited with several fellow residents in the lounge. This time, he brought a brush, ready to groom the dog’s silky ears as she sat on his lap and spoke quietly to her in Dutch— the first time he had uttered more than a monosyllable since moving into the home.

“We hear stories like this all the time,” says Judy Sauvé of Therapeutic Paws of Canada. “The dogs do such a wonderful job of making people feel they’re special. Everybody needs that kind of feedback.”

“Petting and stroking a dog helps to calm the most agitated residents in a retirement or nursing home, gives people something to look forward to and stimulates wonderful conversations about the pets they once owned,” she adds.

Charlotte’s owner, Caroline Clark of Carolark, the Kanata-based Centre for Applied Canine Behaviour, agrees. “A dog can be a wonderful facilitator for group interactions.”

Charlotte (now retired) was until recently the focal point of the Charlotte and friends’ group at one facility. The seniors who came to see her frequently brought photographs of dogs they had loved. On occasion, a second dog would join the group for a day.

“It’s good for the seniors, good for the volunteers and good for the dogs,” says Ms. Sauvé. “The benefits for all are significant.”

Both women caution that not every dog would be comfortable as a volunteer visitor. “We look for dogs that are confident, friendly, enjoy meeting people and calm enough to keep their feet on the floor,” says Ms. Clark, a former assessor for the pet visitation program. “We also want to make sure that the dog wants to be there and that the individual wants to see the dog. A visit must not be stressful for either the dog or the person.”

Therapeutic Paws of Canada is located at 2886 Front Road, Hawkesbury. The telephone number is (613) 632-6502 and the e-mail address is

CarolArk is located at 600 Eagleson Road. The telephone number is 591-3277 and the website is