BY KALISHA MENDONSA
The Red Deer and District SPCA is seeking to expand their ‘K9 Community Outreach Program’ in Central Alberta, with a need for willing – and eligible – volunteers.
The program seeks to share a little puppy love in senior facilities, hospitals and schools.
Volunteers who have well-trained, calm, non-aggressive dogs are able to apply for the program and must be certified before heading out to share the joy and unconditional love of dogs with the community.
Eva Sarson, program coordinator, said there are huge benefits to the program, and that they will place volunteers within their own local communities to get the most out of the program. Sarson added that currently, there are many suitable environments but just not enough volunteers to fill all of the vacancies.
“It’s really a good feeling when you see these programs at work. I love going out to facilities for my first visit and meeting new volunteers. I get to see one-on-one how people respond to the dogs, how the dogs respond to the new place and just the unconditional love that can be offered,” Sarson said.
“The dogs know which people are having a bad day – it’s just something they are very good at. They really gravitate to the people who need them, and you can almost see that person melt with relief. It makes them feel secure and releases chemicals in our bodies that allow us to de-stress.”
In Lacombe, the program has been incredibly successful in its partnership with Father Lacombe School, where local volunteer Cheryl Armstrong brings her dog Ripley in to spend time with young students.
The students are able to practice their reading skills, by reading to Ripley and getting help from Armstrong.
In addition to improving the student literacy, Armstrong is able to teach the kids about responsible pet ownership and respecting the animals.
“We are often out and volunteering with our dogs, especially at big events, and we’re trying to get some education out as well. We talk about proper pet care and what the animals need,” Sarson said.
“Our volunteer, Cheryl, who goes to Father Lacombe school, spends a lot of time talking about what is acceptable to do with her dog. She explains to the kids that they can’t ride the dog even though it’s big because it will hurt them. She talks about proper pet care, and that’s a really important piece of this outreach program.”
Sarson said one of the main goals of the SPCA is to teach people proper care for their animals.
She said through the community outreach program, not only do people learn this proper care and respect, but the interaction is incredibly valuable to all parties involved.
She said a lot of time is spent in schools, especially around exams, as it helps students to de-stress and catch a bit of a break during the trying times.
As well, the older populations who are able to visit with the dogs – and of course, the volunteers – are able to see many social benefits that in turn can help to improve overall well-being.
“This program really helps with loneliness. A lot of seniors can feel lonely, because they don’t necessarily have people nearby who can come visit them. When you bring the dog in, it’s not just the dog that helps. The dogs are really more of an ice-breaker,” Sarson said.
“They often connect to the volunteers, and really enjoy having someone there to spend time with and to talk to. They often get to build that relationship over time. It really decreases those feelings of isolation for them as well.”
For anyone who thinks this is a program for them and their canine companion, or for their facility, contact Sarson at 403-342-7722.