Pet therapy making a paws-itive impact on health care workers

A pop-up pet therapy session for health care workers provided a much needed break for staff at an Edmonton hospital Wednesday.

Ron Middleton and his rough collie named Candy spent 90 minutes at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for a pop-up pet therapy session.

“She’s excellent in, you know, getting people to relax, to calm down, to remember the dogs in their lives… those things a good therapy dog does,” said Middleton.

Middleton got Candy when she was six, after she retired from being a show dog. He credits that training for her calm demeanor.

“Working in the medical profession is stressful in the best of times, and now it’s super stressful for them,” he said. “The few minutes we spend actually compounds in many ways with the staff and patients here.”

There are many dog therapy programs meant to assist AHS patients, but this outdoor visit was specifically meant for health care workers.

“Amongst the three of us, our mental health has felt better today, just being excited to come and meet the dog and pet her,” said health care worker Tracey MacPhee.

“I think her calmness really kind of transfers onto us as we’re hanging out with her and petting her,” said RN Jenifer Bennett.

“Being able to take the time to do something like this has been very nice.”

A Statistics Canada survey from earlier this year found seven in 10 health care workers reported worsening mental health during the pandemic. Studies have shown interactions with pets can have a positive impact on mental health in challenging times.

“Last time we were here a young ICU nurse came here on his day off just to spend some time with the dog,” said Middleton.

Candy and her pup Cayley have been volunteering for the last three years. Middleton believes it’s in the past year and a half they’ve made the most impact.

“When we run these kinds of events, we go to the University during exam time and whatever, we call them stress busters and you can just see people come and because a dog lives in the moment, is totally accepting of everything, it just takes people right out of the stress space they’re in.”

Middleton and his dogs also visit the staff and patients at the Alberta Hospital.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett.