It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring outcome of any homeless dog’s stay with the Nova Scotia SPCA than to see them adopted and become not only loving loyal companions, but also to see them play an important role in brightening the lives of people who need it most.
These dogs are now therapy dogs that, through their visitations, help people rediscover joy in life. They’re also proof that sometimes the best therapist has a wet nose, fur and four legs.
Milo is one of these special doggie dispensers of love. Surrendered in 2015 by his owner who couldn’t care for him anymore, he arrived at the SPCA malnourished, with a flea allergy and extremely matted hair. Now Milo, along with his guardian Cora Haggett, provides comfort and companionship to patients in the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation and Arthritis Centre.
Haggett was always passionate about volunteering, loved animals and believed it’s important to give back to the community. Milo appeared to have the perfect disposition for becoming a therapy dog; he’s calm and eager to embrace everyone around him. They applied to the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program where, after reference checks and an interview, Milo passed rigorous tests with flying colours.
On a regular basis, the duo visit patients from ages 18 to 80 who are coping with brain injuries, lost limbs and other challenges. Dapper in his official therapy dog bandana, Milo seems to know he has an important job.
“I’m very proud of him,” says Haggett. “Milo’s presence is game-changing for patients.”
Family members often say they haven’t seen the patient this happy or excited since incurring their injury or the onset of their illness. One wheelchair-bound senior woman, who’s normally solemn and silent, cried when Milo was placed in her lap. Sensitive to her emotions, Milo licked her tears away only to have the woman break into a huge smile.
“That’s the reason we do this,” says Haggett. For her, it feels good to help others and it also offers quality bonding time with Milo. They also participate in events like Dalhousie University’s puppy room, a dog-gone good idea, where therapy dogs like Milo help students relax and destress during exam time.
Pet therapy is based on the long-recognized power of the human-animal bond. Its goal is to improve the quality of life and health of people in need through regular contact with a dog’s unconditional love.
Scientific evidence shows that the benefits of pet therapy are many. Physically, interacting with a friendly pet lowers blood pressure, improves heart health and diminishes pain. Emotionally, it lifts spirits, reduces anxiety, lessens loneliness, improves confidence and self-esteem, and creates motivation for a person to recover faster. Guardians get a feeling of satisfaction, witnessing the positive changes their dogs bring about in people.
St. John Ambulance has more than 275 therapy dog teams across Nova Scotia. The organization partners with various facilities and teams work in diverse community settings based on need and availability of volunteers. They provide comfort and companionship in seniors’ residences, long-term care, rehab facilities and even the airport. In hospitals, they provide relief and distraction for patients awaiting or recovering from surgery or treatment.
Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs like Milo end up at a shelter through no fault of their own. They are just as loving, well-tempered and smart as any other dog. Those who are able to see their potential know these compassionate and forgiving beings are capable of anything. And some, like Milo, can take their gift on the road and spread the magic.
If you’re interested in giving back to the community by lending a helping paw to people in need, call St. John Ambulance at 1-800-565-5056 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a small way to make a big difference.
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