Almost seven months ago, Murphy, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, and his handler Jane, began participating in a pilot research study visiting patients at Saskatoon’s busiest emergency department (ED) at Royal University Hospital. Since then, Murphy and Jane have become regular once-a-week volunteers whenever possible. They offer comfort, a listening ear, and more often than not, simply a calming distraction.

Murphy and Jane (left) are a great volunteer team.

Murphy and Jane (left) are a great volunteer team.

“We look forward to the time they are here,” says Dr. James Stempien, department head of emergency medicine for Saskatoon Health Region. “This is a busy place and their calming impact on patients, family members and even staff is unmistakeable.”

While the use of therapy dogs is not new in Saskatoon Health Region, what has been new with this pilot was having them in the emergency department, a place where calm is not the norm. “The response from patients and families has been very positive,” continues Stempien. “When we talk to people after a visit from the therapy dog team you can see distinct improvements in tone of voice and a much more open body language.”

“Being a therapy dog is about more than being a friendly animal. A therapy dog must be able to sit calmly for petting, be able to handle crowds, many people petting and or hugging him/her at the same time, wheelchairs and crutches and the different kinds of touches that vary with age, mobility, and illness. A therapy dog must react well to other dogs and distractions such as the sounds made by machines in a hospital etc.,” says Jane, Murphy’s handler.  “And most importantly, therapy dogs must really enjoy meeting and being with people.”

In fact, the St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog program is so comprehensive, it has a completion rate of just 40 per cent, and even fewer dogs are able to pass the test to work with children. Superstar Murphy has passed both tests.

Volunteer Services and Infection Control are both very involved to ensure patients get the maximum benefit from visits by Murphy.

Want to know more about therapy dogs in Saskatoon Health Region? Check out these two recent stories: Therapy dogs now working in emergency or Lucy brings comfort to patients.