November 23, 2009

H1N1 Flu Shot Clinics Gone to the Dogs!

Chester, Dakota, Cricket, Kaylah, Zephyr, Lucky, Eddie, Mollie, Bailey, Moxie and Bowser have been working like dogs at the H1N1 Flu Shot Clinics this week! Actually, that's because they are dogs. In fact their official title is "Therapy Dogs" - and they work with St John Ambulance.

The primary role of these certified therapy dogs is to make people feel better. Studies have shown that being around a dog, petting a dog or watching a dog play calms a person down and generally makes them healthier and happier. It also lowers blood pressure and heart rate.

As such, this motley crew of breeds have been working with people at H1N1 immunization clinics. Along with bringing smiles to people waiting for their H1N1 shot, when asked to do so, therapy dogs have helped distract children before or after receiving their needle. If distraught, children are asked if they want to pet the therapy dog after receiving their shot. The crying typically stops quite quickly.

"One boy was screaming so much after his shot, I asked him if he wanted to take Dakota for a walk. He said yes. I told him he would have to not scream so Dakota wouldn't get scared," says Bev Ptosnick, proud owner of a lab cross named Dakota. "He stopped in an instant. I had a lot of happy and thankful parents."

Parents at the H1N1 Flu shot Clinics were particularly grateful and several commented about what a great idea it was to have kids distracted. One little girl was crying before receiving her shot. "I got the girl to hold Dakota's leash - while I also held it - and got her to concentrate on watching that Dakota didn't try to get away. After the shot, I let her lead Dakota around the room - again with me holding on - so she would settle down," recalls Bev.

When people realized what an impact therapy dogs were having at the University of Manitoba Flu shot clinic, requests were made for therapy dogs at the Inkster and Seven Oaks locations.

It's a service St John Ambulance considers a privilege to offer. These therapy dogs are among 200 in the province. It all started with discussions with other community groups after the seasonal influenza mass immunization campaign. The organization provided the first responders volunteering in recovery areas, but wondered if there was another way they could get involved in assisting the clinics. Fortunately, their idea went to the dogs.

"A lot of people don't realize how much planning has gone into these clinics," says Christine Kaskiw, Director of Community Services for NWT/MB & Nunvavut, St John Ambulance. "You guys care so much. We're honoured to give back to the community during this time when we need to help people get their vaccines."

The dogs are making quite an impression on children. Chester - a very busy dog who also volunteers for a Special Tots for Special Kids Autism Program and the See Spot Read program - is a golden retriever with a phenomenal temperament.

One little boy recognized Chester at the Santa Claus parade in Winnipeg (on November 21st). When the boy asked the owner what the dog's name was, and learned it was Chester, he declared: "I thought so! He was with me when I got my flu shot this week!"

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