Reflections of Ponoka: George is a champion and a special friend

George is a handsome and lively 8½-year-old male Chesapeake Bay Retriever (or Chessie) who really enjoys his rigorous days

Karen Douglass and her Chesapeake Retriever

Karen Douglass and her Chesapeake Retriever

George is a handsome and lively 8½-year-old male Chesapeake Bay Retriever (or Chessie) who really enjoys his rigorous days of training and exercise sessions out on the acreage with his best friend and owner, Karen Douglass. The busy sales representative with the Ponoka News purchased her first Chesapeake Bay retriever in 1977 and has been in love with the versatility and gentle spirit of this popular breed of dog ever since.

They began their early casual training sessions when George was just a young puppy and with extreme patience and understanding, Karen slowly taught her buddy how to retrieve various items by hand, to come when called, to walk calmly on a leash, to have fun and achieve so much more together as a team. As the dog got older and matured, he was entered in countless obedience and rally obedience trials throughout Alberta. Showing under his registered name of Wyndham’s Water Wizard (fondly known as George) he later earned the titles of Companion Dog (CD), Rally Excellent (RE) and Canine Good Citizen (CGN). Along the way he has earned many High In Class honours against various talented breed dogs, taking part in both disciplines. Many of the judges have commented to Karen on George’s happy working attitude, and how quickly he had become an excellent ambassador for the breed.

With most of the retriever competitions taking part in the spring and summer, George and Karen longed to work together in some other activities for the rest of the year. After reading a newspaper article in which our Ponoka hospitals were looking for dogs to visit clients, she figured that with George’s experience, training, and joy of being around people, it was time to open up a new chapter and enroll him as a therapy dog.

What is Therapy Dog’s International?

TDI is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, and other institutions where therapy dogs are needed and welcomed. The organization was founded in 1978 in New Jersey and encourages all breeds of dogs, including those with pedigrees, those who have been adopted from shelters, as well as rescued dogs, or just family pets to take part. In 2011 more than 24,000 dogs and their handlers were involved in the program throughout the United States and Canada.

In Camrose George and Karen went through a 3½-hour exam, passing with flying colors, and proudly earning the title of Therapy Dog International (TDI). This prestigious title is recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, and the initials are officially added to each dog’s registered name. Each dog earning a TDI also proudly receives a neckerchief, a picture ID name tag, and a tag officially recognizing them as a therapy dog. All dogs taking part in the program have to keep up their regular checkups and vaccinations, while the handler must file a yearly report on their visits.

Since their enrolment in the spring, Karen has taken George for visits to the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre and the Red Deer Hospice, and have really enjoyed these special experiences. Karen explains that George usually decides how long the visits will last, with most being an hour, and that the duration of his participation in this volunteer program will depend on his health and well being. In the meantime you will likely see George and Karen visiting up at the hospital, or back on the field of competition when spring rolls around!

Pet therapy program at Ponoka hospitals

Among the many other volunteer programs offered at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre and the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, the pet visitation program is becoming extremely popular with both residents and staff.

Volunteer resources’ procedure for pet visitation states participation in the program is open to pet owners of domestic adult dogs and cats, caged birds and aquarium fish. All pets joining the program must have proof of immunizations, and all visitations are arranged in advance between the owners and the volunteer resources co-ordinators.

Leanne Brusegard, the volunteer resources co-ordinator at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre currently has three dogs and their owners involved in their pet visitation program, and she would like to encourage others from the town and county to take part. These pets and their owners work closely with the hospital staffs, striving to give each resident who are able to and wish to take part an enjoyable and healthy experience. Interaction with the visiting pets on most occasions has shown happy and uplifting responses, along with a few hugs, gentle petting, and lots of shake-a-paws. Many of the residents just like to sit quietly with their new four-legged friends, who they really look forward to seeing each week.

Other year-round volunteer programs featured at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre include: Golden Spoons feeding assistance, youth volunteers (12 years old and over), the water cart and movie nights. Those interested in taking part or requiring more information on the pet visitation or other volunteer programs at the hospital are urged to get in touch with Leanne Brusegard at 403-704-8312, or leave a message if necessary.

One of the greatest experiences of a lifetime is to become a volunteer, and wherever your talents, your time, and your caring efforts may be served, you will always be appreciated by those who might need just a little extra support and kindness.