BERWICK, NS - Darcie the Newfoundland dog is no slouch when it comes to going to work.
Groomed better than some humans, the gentle giant is the belle of the ball as she casually strolls through the halls of the Grand View Manor in Berwick. There’s a running joke that Darcie has a huge caseload at the long-term care home, where the popular pooch mingles with residents on a weekly basis.
Darcie dutifully goes for her leash after every bath, as she knows a thorough grooming typically means she’s heading out for work.
“She likes to visit,” says Gloria Armstrong, Darcie’s human.
“They all know her; they don’t know my name,” she adds with a laugh.
Darcie is Armstrong’s third therapy dog. Armstrong has been volunteering at the Grand View Manor since 2005, starting out with Newfoundland dogs Brogan and Gracie.
“You have to get them used to all kinds of different people and sounds,” says Armstrong, a retired teacher living in the Lake George area.
“It’s an ice breaker and it’s a way to get people to talk, and respond, to others.”
The four-year-old therapy dog sits patiently as residents of the manor brush her fur, run their fingers through her soft coat and coo over her appearance. She lets them gaze into her big, brown eyes and tenderly rests her large head on the knees of the residents she connects with. To Darcie’s delight, treats are seldom in short supply when she is among friends.
“It has a calming influence with a lot of people,” says Armstrong.
“They just like to see her. It’s company for them.”
Manor resident Eleanor Aalders is all smiles in Darcie’s presence.
“She likes people,” says Aalders, lightly stroking the top of Darcie’s head, which is resting on her left hand.
“I think she’s great.”
Grand View Manor chief executive officer, Jorge VanSlyke, says the love pets offer at every stage of life makes the therapy dog visits an invaluable service.
“This dog is making so many people happy. It’s amazing,” she says.
“There’s a lot of therapy involved when you have pets that you can pat, and you can just share that love… they give it back to you, no questions asked.”
Armstrong is involved with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. She’s also taken her dogs to schools during exam time, community events and, once on a special request, to a funeral.
“They have to be gentle. You can’t have them running around… they have to be calm,” she says, adding that there is a clear demand for more therapy dogs in the area.
When she taught in Berwick, Armstrong would take her Newfoundland dog to class on Fridays and let the young children read to her pet. She remembers one student confiding that Brogan was a great reading buddy.
“He said she’s a good listener… and she never once told me that I made a mistake. For a child that has reading problems, that was huge that he felt safe that he could read whatever words and he wasn’t going to be corrected,” recalls Armstrong, who loves to see her dogs put a smile on someone’s face.
Read more about therapy dogs at work in Kings County
St. John Ambulance community services co-ordinator Robert Howlett said there is always a need for more volunteer handlers willing to take their dogs out to hospitals, seniors’ residence or nursing homes.
“We’re always looking for more therapy dogs across Nova Scotia and PEI,” he says.
“We have a very big need, lots of facilities enjoy having the therapy dogs come in. There is a really big benefit for people in nursing homes. It breaks up their day and brings a sense of joy, and offers meaningful engagement.”
They’re looking for dogs that are well socialized and exhibit calm and friendly responses during the evaluation process.
“We want to see that they are comfortable with visiting,” he says, adding dogs must obey basic commands from handlers but obedience certification is not required.
“We are totally open to any dog that comes in. We have Yorkies to Great Danes and everything in between.”
The end goal is to spread some cheer or comfort, one wagging tail at a time.
“It does reduce stress. There’s actual research out there that shows that it does reduce blood pressure in a person when they’re patting a dog.”