This story was previously published on GuelphToday.
Police officers see us at our worst moments.
The job doesn’t get any easier day-by-day, but the hope is with a partnership with St. John Ambulance, a weekly doggy visit to Guelph Police Headquarters can at least bring some relief to a tough day.
“It just brightens your day,” said Staff Sgt. Tina Ryan. “It certainly brightens my day.
Ryan, who is in charge of the 911 communications centre dispatch office at Guelph police, said it did take some time once the ball started rolling.
“Because it’s a police service, there’s so much confidentiality going on in here,” she said. “We had to do a little bit of background stuff first. We basically decided on times that would best suit two shifts at once.”
Once times were decided upon, St. John Ambulance reached out to its volunteer base.
Once they passed the background checks, therapy dogs started coming in twice a week last June.
Volunteers with St. John Ambulance bring in dogs every Monday and Wednesday, at no cost to the service.
On Mondays, Lola (a four-year-old golden doodle) and Charlie (a 13-year-old yellow lab) come in for about an hour after 5 p.m., catching the switchover between the day shift and night shift workers.
On Wednesdays, Cooper, a three-year-old golden doodle, pays a visit.
It is a one-year pilot project, and a survey is being conducted to see how much of an impact they have, in hopes of extending the program beyond a year. Safe to say the dogs are a hit.
“We look forward to having them here every single week,” said Laura Saninte, a crisis response coordinator with IMPACT at CMHA. “They bring so much joy.”
Likewise, the handlers are having a great time coming in.
“It seems to be going really well,” said Lynn Harrison, coordinator of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in Guelph.
“We love to see the people smiles and laughs when we get in here. Often they’ll say ‘oh what a way to start a shift or what a way to finish a shift.’
“Just seeing the joy and the happiness of the dogs when they go see the people. I swear now, they start to recognize them, so the dogs will go to certain people and they just get that familiarity, so it’s really cool.”
The program has also been implemented at the University of Guelph, with regular dog visits happening during exam time to help provide a spot of stress release for students.
Ryan said with all the visits, they’ve built a relationship with both the dogs and handlers.
“It’s so nice. So many people have their own dogs, love the dogs, the handlers engage with the officers or the civilians to talk about their dogs,” she said.
“Dogs are so pleasant. They have their own personalities and talents, and they’re all so different. Everyone has their favourites, but we just love that quick interaction.”
The dogs are so popular, one of the 911 dispatchers crocheted look-a-like dolls for Christmas. Supplied photo.
She said most people love dogs, and they don’t push the dogs on those who may not be interested. But overall, the dog visits have been well received.
“My favourite part is opening that door. They know I’m coming,” Ryan said.
“It’s awesome, and they’re happy too. It’s a win-win.”
“In an employment environment, where there is so much stress and high intensity in their jobs, to be able to offer these kinds of programs is certainly at the core of these programs,” Harrison added.
“It certainly works well, and we hope it continues.”