BC Children’s Hospital celebrates over 5,000 interactions between patients, families and their furriest volunteers

Glen and Olive. Photo: BC Children's Hospital

BC Children’s Hospital is celebrating a pawsome milestone of furry interactions between their therapy pets and patients and families accessing care.

Data released on Wednesday marks over 5,000 interactions from April 2022 to March 2023 between patients and the Pet Therapy Program, presented by PetSmart Charities of Canada through funding to BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, with over 1,000 volunteer hours recorded during this same period.

The program aims to reduce the stress and anxiety many patients and families experience while accessing care at both hospitals. Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback from patients and families, the Patient Experience team made the decision to expand the initiative in 2021 to include monthly Pets Assisting the Wellness of Staff (PAWS) events for hospital staff.

“When you visit the hospitals, you regularly hear the patter of furry feet along the corridors and in patient bedrooms as our dedicated volunteers and their four-legged friends interact with patients, families and our staff. While this program was temporarily disrupted at the start of the pandemic, it has rebounded with a renewed energy and has evolved into an integral part of our hospital experience and culture”, said Mary MacKillop, Director, Patient Experience with BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre.

Since the Pet Therapy Program, presented by PetSmart Charities of Canada, was first launched in 2007, it has expanded to include 32 dogs, a cat and a rabbit, who undergo an assessment, along with their human companions, to determine their suitability to provide support in a busy acute care environment.

The Patient Experience team also hosts pop-up events including their first miniature pony visit and Pet a Puppy session, all aimed at supporting the emotional and psychological needs of patients, families and staff.

BC Children’s Hospital patient Glen and his family love having visits to the Oncology unit from Pet Therapy Program team member Gail and her Australian Cattle Dog, Olive. Glen said, “I love all the therapy dogs, but Olive is the best!”

Volunteers also benefit from spending time with patients, families and staff, and facilitating moments of calm and comfort for people at the hospital. Speaking about their volunteering experience, Pet Therapy Program volunteer Gail said, “Each time I show up for a volunteer shift with Olive, there is a moment, a conversation or an interaction with a patient/parent or staff member that completely fills my heart with joy. I leave each week knowing that someone smiled, felt a little more valued or just got to exhale because of this program.”

Those interested in volunteering with the Pet Therapy Program, presented by PetSmart Charities of Canada, can email pettherapy@cw.bc.ca and visit the BC Children’s Hospital website.