Therapy dogs reduce anxiety for vaccine clients
People anxious about getting their COVID-19 vaccine had a furry helping hand at clinics held recently in Saskatoon.
Through a partnership with St. John Ambulance and the University of Saskatchewan (USask), the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) had therapy dogs available at two walk-in clinics at Prairieland Park on Thursday, August 19 and Saturday, August 21.
“We had so much positive feedback,” said Monique Harmon-Atkinson, Manager of Primary Health Care for SHA. “Many clients came specifically for the dogs because they had quite high anxiety – we even had someone drive all the way from Regina. The dogs walked around and interacted with people, and sat with many people as they received their vaccine.”
Colleen Dell, Professor and Research Chair in One Health and Wellness, started the therapy dog program, PAWS Your Stress, at USask in 2015. She coordinates with her team and St. John Ambulance to bring the therapy dogs to campus, where they are available to students leading up to exams. After receiving her own vaccine, Dell reached out to the SHA to suggest bringing the dogs to a clinic.
“The first time I went through the drive-thru for my vaccine, it made me think we needed the dogs,” said Dell. “The dogs offer comfort and support, and people need that comfort and support at these vaccine clinics.”
The therapy dogs’ appearances have been limited to online work since early 2020 due to the pandemic. As the province has removed the public health orders that were previously in place, it allowed for the vaccine clinics to act a test of opening up to in-person visits again. Many of the dogs and handlers have previously worked in health-care settings, including emergency departments and hospitals, so they are familiar with safety protocols, including masking and hand sanitizing before and after interacting with the dogs.
“Our dogs wear special bandanas when they are working,” said Dell. “As soon as you put the bandana on the dog, they know. They haven’t done it for so long – they were just beside themselves with excitement.”
“The teams were amazed at what their dogs did. Every one of them has a special story they could tell,” Stephanie Peachey, provincial evaluator for St. John Ambulance therapy dogs and coordinator for Saskatoon. “They saw people who weren’t going to get a needle, and helped them actually get it. The experience was fantastic.”
“It was really nice not just for the clients but also for the staff,” Harmon-Atkinson added. “It brought a bit of joy to the shift. There were smiles all around.”