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CMA Healthy Canadians Grant Spotlight: Therapy Dog Program

The Healthy Canadians Grants program is designed to provide support for community-run initiatives that will improve the quality of life of patients and vulnerable populations living in communities across Canada, and will have a positive impact on the community as a whole. The program is a joint collaboration between the CMA and the CMA Foundation and each year up to 14 Healthy Canadians Grants will be awarded – one $10,000 grant to each province or territory, and an additional $20,000 grant to the home province of the CMA president.

For many people, animals are an important part of their lives. For seniors, especially those who are socially isolated or living in nursing homes, hospitals or retirement residences, animals can provide comfort and companionship, reduce stress and promote a sense of joy and well-being. Thanks to a Healthy Canadians Grant from the CMA, in collaboration with the CMA Foundation, St. John Ambulance is expanding their therapy dog program in Prince Edward Island, doubling the number of dogs and volunteers available to visit seniors living in long-term care facilities.

The therapy dog program is a community service program where volunteers provide regular visits and companionship to community members who are ill or lonely and are living in a long-term care facility, hospital or any other community facility that provides care to clients. These patients reap the therapeutic benefits of the unconditional love they receive from the dogs.

Dr. Trevor Jain is an emergency physician in PEI and an advocate for the therapy dog program. In a letter supporting St. John Ambulance’s grant application he wrote, “social isolation is one of the determinants of frailty in our senior population. The use of therapy dogs is a recognized mitigation strategy to address this issue.”

In a recent CBC story on the impact the Healthy Canadians Grant will have on this program, Robert Howlett, the St. John Ambulance community services coordinator for Nova Scotia and PEI, stated they have received many requests from nursing homes and other facilities that would like to participate in the program. The grant will allow the program to add new volunteers and dogs to try to meet the demand for visits

The $10,000 grant will be used to fund recruitment,evaluation and training of volunteers and their dogs. Dogs must be at least one year old, have a clean bill of health from a vet and go through an evaluation process to determine if they have the right temperament to be a therapy dog. The dogs selected for the program, and their owners, will go through a training process before visiting seniors residing in long-term care across PEI. The goal is to reach as many socially isolated seniors with this service as possible.

in 2018, the CMA and CMA Foundation awarded 14 grants totaling $150,000 to charities across the country to start or grow programs aimed at improving the lives of seniors.