Sign In

Therapy dogs make virtual visits during COVID-19

April 22, 2020


THUNDER BAY — The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping Thunder Bay’s therapy dogs from making personal visits to the people who’ve come to count on them for a bit of cheer and companionship.

Jill Biggs, coordinator of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in northwestern Ontario, says the clients aren’t the only ones missing the human/canine interaction.

Her own dog, she said, “hasn’t had a good belly-rub” in over a month.

“A lot of the dogs wear a bandana that says ‘St. John Ambulance’ on it when they go visiting. And most handlers have a specific collar that we use everytime we go out. When you put them on the dog, they know exactly what they’re going to be doing,” Biggs said.

Although those excursions are off-limits right now, the dogs and their owners aren’t forgetting their friends.

Many of the 50 animals enrolled in the programming are now making virtual visits.

Some are using FaceTime to connect with residents in long-term care facilities, while other dogs are “writing” to children they previously encountered in school visits.

St. John Ambulance has also posted photos and messages to clients on its Facebook page.

Local dog Blue, a five-year-old Newfie, used to visit Thunder Bay Airport weekly to greet travellers.

He’s social-distancing at home for now, as a YouTube video shows.

Biggs says all the clients St. John Ambulance has heard from in recent weeks are expressing how much they miss the dogs.

“A lot of our clients are in long-term care homes. The dogs have been visiting them for two to three years, and establish a relationship with them. Now that’s gone,” she told Tbnewswatch.

“It’s tough on everybody. We had dogs at the university, four out of five days of the week, in different locations…Every time we walked in there, the students were already waiting for the dogs,” Biggs added.

Some elementary school children who benefited from school visits by therapy dogs are receiving notes from their canine friends while classes are cancelled.

Biggs’ dog, Flynn, is a reading dog.

“They have pals for stories. Students who are not keen on reading will not read in front of a stranger but they will sit on the mat beside Flynn and read to her. Because we can’t do that now, some of the handlers have sent photos to the schools, and the students – instead of reading to the dogs –  are writing letters to them. And the dogs are responding in kind.”

The area St. John Ambulance therapy dog program also has participants in Nipigon, Dryden and Kenora.

Register Your Dog

  • Most Recent News

    Big Dogs Need Owners

    When the shutdown orders took full effect, it became nearly impossible to find a small dog available for adoption as Southlanders sought furry companions. In many Southland shelters, only larger breeds remained available for adoption. Now Los Angeles Animal Service is touting the joys of big dogs while offering discounted adoption fees for larger breeds […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Walkathon

    On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service […]

    Read more

    Service Dog In The Marching Band

    In a year that is anything but normal, the Jones College Maroon Typhoon Marching Band has welcomed its first known service dog member this fall. Laurie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, is baritone saxophone player Sara-Beth McKellar’s service dog. The Vicksburg native was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sophomore in high school after her first seizure. […]

    Read more

    Church Blesses Animals

    St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception in Port Jervis hosted a special outdoor service last Sunday afternoon to bless the community’s pets, animals and other living creatures. In keeping with current pandemic rules, pet owners wore masks, remained distant, and took part in praying for dogs, cats, turtles, and other pets and animals around […]

    Read more

    Police Welcome New Canine

    After the unexpected passing of longtime Police Service Dog Zeus earlier this week, Kingston Police are welcoming a new member to the Canine Unit. Police Service Dog Bask, also known as K9-8, is a Dutch Shepherd and Belgium Malinois mix, and will be patrolling the streets of Kingston with his handler Constable Jeff Dickson. Bask […]

    Read more

    Dog Park For Travelers

    St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a dog-friendly city, and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is making sure its four-legged visitors and their humans feel welcome by rolling out the artificial turf carpet. With the completion of the airport’s parking and roadway project – part of a series of multi-million dollar improvements at the airport over the […]

    Read more