Tuesday, 16 April 2013 09:11

Volunteers sought for dog visitation program in Oyen; other programs also need assistance

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Health officials are hoping a pet visitation program in Oyen will be just as successful as the one in Brooks.

Laura Fleury, co-ordinator volunteer resources for Bassano, Brooks and Oyen, with Alberta Health Services, is looking for volunteers in the Oyen area who are willing to bring in their dogs to visit with patients in the long-term care area of the Big Country Hospital.
“There’s so much research about the positive effects of petting the (dogs),” says Fleury. That research shows elderly people who pet an animal will even see their blood pressure decrease.
“They come away feeling so much better,” adds Fleury about the program which has been running in Brooks since 1995 and is just starting up again in Bassano. Now, Fleury wants to see it expand into Oyen as well.
In Brooks, volunteers bring their dogs into the long-term care centre on the afternoons of the second and fourth Tuesday each month. They also visit people in the hospital every other Wednesday.
Fleury would like to see a pool of volunteers available in Oyen, as she’d like a pet visit to occur once a week.
“So if a volunteer could just do one time a month that’s great,” says Fleury, adding the program is flexible.
Those volunteers who want to take part will go through a screening process, including a criminal record check. Their dogs will also be screened to ensure they fit the criteria for the program. Some of the areas that
will be looked at include how the dog associates with other dogs, how it reacts when startled as well as how it reacts to people using canes, walkers or wheelchairs.
Once the screening process is complete, successful applicants will go through an orientation to learn what is in the volunteer handbook as well as the owner and pet will be escorted on each visit with each resident.
“The residents are able to pet the dog, but we don’t allow the dog to lick,” says Fleury, explaining there are health concerns associated with licking.
Volunteers are also needed for the pet visitation programs in Brooks and Oyen but also for other programming.
Fleury needs individuals who are willing to take people for walks or outings so they can get some fresh air. As well people are needed to work the gift shop in the Brooks Hospital and to play crib with seniors’ home residents.
Fleury also needs a community leisure volunteer in Brooks to visit with elderly people in the community in their homes or private care facilities.
It would include playing cards, enjoying coffee or going for a walk.
Another program she’d like to start up is a mail delivery one. She’d like to have enough volunteers in place to pick up mail for seniors’ in extended care and deliver it to them.
“It gives people the opportunity to talk to the individual and more socialization,” explains Fleury, adding some residents don’t get a lot of visitors.
“Volunteers have always been needed (in the health-care system),” points out Fleury. “It’s amazing what they do.”
She says volunteers don’t however take the place of a paid staff person. Rather, they are there to enhance the care.
Some of her volunteers have been lending their time to programs for 15 years or more, while a couple in Bassano have been volunteering for 25 years and a couple people in Brooks have been helping out for more than 40 years.
Volunteers Fleury oversees range in age from 13 to 89. Sometimes the teens return to work in the health-care field as nurses or LPNs or in diagnostic imaging or the lab, after spending time volunteering.
Finding volunteers can be challenging as people sometimes don’t have a lot of extra time. Fleury finds if she can make the programs flexible then it fits in better to volunteers’ schedules.
Anyone interested in volunteering for the pet visitation program in Oyen or any other programs can contact Laura Fleury at 403-501-3207.
Because she works in various offices throughout the southeast corner it is important for people who phone to leave a message and Fleury will return the call.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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