Donna Goodwin receives a welcome visit from her friend Moby, a trained therapy dog who has a knack for making new friends, at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.-Image credit: Lachlan Labere/Salmon Arm Observer

Dr. Dog brightens spirits

St. John’s Therapy dog Moby makes his rounds.

Sometimes all it takes is a wagging tail and a gentle paw to brighten a day.

Meet Moby, a white labradoodle who brings both smiles and tears as he works his way around Shuswap Lake General Hospital every Wednesday.

Moby is a certified St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog, and Moby does his job well, says owner Joyce Polley.

And “Dr. Dog” just seems to know what to do, she says.

“One fella said ‘I sure do appreciate you Moby; I enjoyed this visit very much,” says Polley, noting the atmosphere in one room might be light and positive, while the mood may be much more sombre in another patient’s room. “We were called into a palliative patient’s room. Moby walked over to the bed, put his head on the bed for a moment and went back to the family member, who wrapped her arms around him and just cried and cried.”

Polley tells about a visit to the emergency room when a fellow who had injured his hands walked over to Moby and made the only gesture he could, laying two fingers on the dog’s head.

“People seem to absorb a sense a of calm from Moby,” she says. “I often stand back and let Moby do his thing. We take the cues from him because he seems to know what to do.”

Donna Goodwin is another “Dr. Dog” fan.

Approaching the end of a series of chemo treatments, Goodwin says everyone in the chemo room last Wednesday brightened visibly when Moby made his tail-wagging entrance.

“That is such a gorgeous dog; I was in three weeks ago and he gave me a big kiss,” she says. “I am an animal person and he’s a gentle sweetie pie, so well-mannered, and he goes around and puts his head on people’s laps.”

Polley got Moby when he was a year-and-a half-old from a good kennel, but says he was “one wild and crazy guy.”

She took him to dog obedience classes and was allowed to practice his therapy skills in one of the unoccupied rooms of a care home she was working in.

On the day he went to get certified, all the care aides were asking “has Moby passed?”

That was almost eight years ago. Since then Moby and Polley have visited schools and seniors’ residences, beginning hospital visits about a year-and-a-half ago.

“Even though he was pretty high strung, I knew he was a gentle dog and once he started working, he just seemed to know what to do.”

And so does Bean. The beagle and his owner Gail Viens visit Bastion Place on Mondays, where they are very well received.

The residents can easily relate to Bean, who has ALS and is wheeled around on his own chair on wheels.

Robin Greencorn, co-ordinator of volunteer services for Shuswap Lake General Hospital and Bastion Place, has worked with St. John Therapy Dogs in the past.

“I really believe in the program; in many cases have seen what it can do in residential sites,” says Greencorn who has worked in health care for more than 25 years. “It brightens their day, brings them out of their shell and makes them smile.”

Greencorn says she has seen the therapy dog program working at all levels of care and she wanted to give it a try in the acute-care setting.

“Often in acute care, we don’t have time to address the spiritual needs of patients, especially at Christmas,” she says, pointing out the hospital has an amazing medical staff and Moby’s visits brighten their day too. “When we bring in Moby, he helps with emotional healing.”

Greencorn calls Polley an amazing handler and co-ordinator of eight therapy dogs who work in Salmon Arm and Sicamous.

“When I brought it in, I had no idea it would be so successful,” adds Greencorn. “The response has far exceeded expectations; Moby has really made Shuswap Lake General Hospital special.”