Westman area resident, Ngaire Abernathy, and her 6-year-old long-haired Weimaraner, Tai, bring smiles to everyone they visit, be it on the road during a doggy-walk, or visiting folks in a personal care home, or patients in a hospital bed. 

Both Ngaire and Tai belong to the PATDogs (Pets as Therapy) team of therapy dogs.

"PATDogs is a small but growing group of handlers and their canine partners in the Brandon area and have been endorsed as the primary provider of therapy dog teams for Prairie Mountain Health (PMH), and for Project Resilience 911 (a peer support group for front line responders) as well as other venues and events," shares Abernathy.

Recently PMH put a call out for more therapy dogs to join their teams in the rural areas and got a fairly good response from pet-owners. "We were getting a lot of requests for dogs in rural areas, especially in the care homes after Covid, and so together we put out the recruitment campaign, looking for rural-area dogs in particular," explains Abernathy.  

"Often in the rural areas there are local people, volunteers, who are visiting their own family members and so those were really the kind of people we were trying to reach and trying to find a way to bring them on board with a little more credibility and risk management in place," she adds.

"Starting with a special ‘Puppy Steps to Success’ program, “My guy Tai” has been visiting at Prairie Mountain Health Facilities since he was just 8 weeks old," she explains. "Tai loves to visit residents and perform his tricks. Tai is a grand champion Trick Dog and will be starting dance lessons real soon. When not working, Tai loves to run the bush and then sleep on the couch! Tai’s favorite food is peanut butter!"

Abernathy shares more on the program:

'Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and support to humans. They visit hospitals, assisted living homes, courtrooms, counseling offices, schools, airports, and other facilities where they offer comfort and relieve stress.'

'In addition to providing opportunities for petting and support, some therapy dog/handler teams work with healthcare professionals to improve treatment outcomes (animal-assisted therapy) or participate in literacy (read-to-the-dogs) programs.'

"All of our canine/handler teams are certified by Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) which you can find at www.therapydogs.com.  Once certified, they also must meet the requirements to become a volunteer at each venue in which they work." 

'Therapy dog work is a celebration of the teamwork between you and your dog.  It is a combination of a dog having the right temperament, your relationship with your dog and the training you have done. It can be very stressful for the dogs to have people constantly petting and reaching towards them. The dogs need to be 100% under our care and control in all therapy dog situations, using positive training methods (lots of treats).  We place a very high priority on advocating for our dogs and ensuring that they are comfortable with what we are asking of them.'  

To be a registered therapy dog, your dog should be:

  • At least 1 year old (the minimum age for some programs is 18 or 24 months).
  • Friendly, affectionate, and enjoy being petted by strangers.
  • Calm, quiet, and well behaved, possessing basic “good manners” skills.
  • Clean and well groomed.
  • Comfortable traveling to new locations.
  • More interested in interacting with people than with other animals.

The therapy dog/handler team is a unit.

A dog and handler train together, are tested together, and make visits together. This means that you, the handler, have requirements, too. A therapy dog handler should:

  • · Enjoy interacting with people.
  • · Act as your dog’s advocate, always putting your dog’s needs first.
  • · Learn therapy dog handling techniques.
  • · Dress and behave professionally.

For more information contact prairietherapydogs@gmail.com or visit their website www.prairiemountainhealth.ca

Please listen to more with Ngaire Abernathy below, who at times sounds out of breath because she is walking her dog Tai:)

(All photos submitted by Ngaire Abernathy.  Pictured below is Ngaire and Tai)

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