Visiting pets have
WRITTEN BY SHELLEY BOETTCHER
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL INTERISANO
For the past six years, Jessica Lee has
been taking her dog Harry to Foothills
She and Harry, a tiny white Maltese,
are part of the volunteer team at PALS
(Pet Access League Society), a Calgary-based non-profit organization started in
PALS has around 500 animals,
including dogs, cats and rabbits, and
hundreds of pet owners that deliver pet
therapy at hospitals, nursing homes,
young offender centres, homeless shelters
and other organizations throughout
Calgary. Similar groups, pets and pet
owners do the same at healthcare sites
across the province.
Lee started volunteering after talking
to a friend whose cats are part of the
PALS program. Before visiting patients
and clients, she and Harry were
interviewed and tested. Now they are
assigned to the Foothills’ long-term care
unit, spending about 10 minutes twice a
month with each patient.
From the get-go, it was clear Harry
was meant to be a PALS volunteer. Small
enough to fit in a lap or on a hospital bed,
he weighs just 3. 6 kg (eight pounds). “He
is very quiet and he loves to cuddle,” Lee
Harry regularly works his magic on
hospital patients who are stressed, angry,
sad or depressed. “But as soon as they
see Harry, they get quiet and they start
asking about the dog,” Lee says.
Others revert to their first language
when they see her dog and tell stories
as they have a quick cuddle with Harry.
“They’re not talking to us. They’re
talking to the dog,” says Lee with a
Sometimes, however, it’s a bit of both.
One man shared stories of training police
dogs. Many talk about childhood pets
“That unconditional love that a dog
shares triggers people’s memories,” Lee
says. “It just really warms your heart.”
Others with dementia or Alzheimer’s
may struggle to remember ordinary
events, but, every time they see Harry,
they smile and start to talk. “It sometimes
gives me goosebumps to witness it,” Lee
says. “Nothing can buy that experience.
You’re contributing to something that is
bigger than yourself.”|a
Jessica Lee and her dog Harry visit patients at the Foothills Medical Centre’s
long-term-care unit as part of Calgary’s PALS program.
For more information or to
volunteer with PALS, visit palspets.
The St. John Ambulance Therapy
Dog Program also operates
in Alberta. Go to stjohn.ab.ca/
Meet more of Alberta’s therapy
dogs at https://bit.ly/2ImRzhq