Therapy dogs visit clinics in Canada to help nervous people get their Covid-19 vaccine

Children and adults who showed up at a clinic in Montreal to get their Covid-19 vaccination last week were in for a surprise when they were met with wagging tails.

At certain clinics in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Quebec and British Columbia, adults and children who are anxious about getting the Covid-19 vaccine can now sit next to a dog to help them feel at ease.

These facilities have been recruiting therapy dogs for months now to help reassure children and adults who are worried about needles.

Now the specially-trained canines are being enlisted to help with the rollout of vaccines for children aged five to 11, according to The Canadian Press.

In Montreal on Friday, therapy dogs were on hand to comfort some of the first kids under 12 to get shots after the approval of vaccines for the younger age group.

Across some vaccination clinics in Quebec, the trained dogs sit on people’s laps or lie down next to them.

Meanwhile, in Saskatoon, therapy dogs are also being recruited to help take the sting out of kids’ Covid-19 jabs.

In British Columbia, St. John Ambulance has taken their therapy dogs into Covid-19 vaccine clinics in Penticton and Trail.

A child gets vaccinated during the first day of vaccination for children aged five- to 11-years old in Montreal (image: Canadian Press)

Dogs help humans feel at ease with the vaccine

Françoise Callamand-Mayer, an animal therapist from Montreal arrived to a clinic on Friday with Indiana, her seven year old retriever/Bernese mountain dog mix. At the clinic, some of the first children age five and up were being inoculated against the virus.

“I found some children who were afraid but my dog Indiana, who is a big girl, was always helpful,” Callamand-Mayer said. “Some were crying so hard, but they could pet the dog and it was really magic. In a few minutes they touched the dog and they stopped crying.”

She plans to take Indiana and her three-year old cockerpoo Petit Jones into schools and clinics so the children can pet them while they get their shots. They can also sit on people’s laps or lie down next to them if they are especially nervous.

Callamand-Mayer said parents had been contacting her to see if one of her dogs could accompany their child to a vaccination centre, adding Quebec schools have also been in touch.

Meanwhile, Colleen Dell, an expert in dog therapy at the University of Saskatchewan, has been taking her trained dog Anna-Belle to clinics in Saskatoon and studying the effect.

Anna-Belle, a therapy dog belonging to Colleen Dell, waits at a vaccination center (image: Canadian Press)

She says her white bull-dog sits on a chair beside those getting their shots and it significantly reduces anxiety.

Dell said dog therapists have been working with the Saskatchewan health authority as the child-focused immunization drive picks up speed in that province.

She added that the dogs help transform “a traumatic situation for some into one that is bearable.”

Therapy dogs, she added, also offer an alternative for people who might otherwise resort to anti-anxiety medication.

“Needle hesitancy is widespread and a much broader issue than just for our Covid-19 vaccination clinics,” Dell said. “Most responses to it that I am aware of are medicalized, like taking a pill to calm. Therapy dogs are a new option to bring comfort, support and a distraction to experience.”

Callamand-Mayer said the impact of her dogs has been profound for some people with a fear of needles getting Covid-19 shots.

“A lady said, ‘I have always fainted when I have got a shot,’” Callamand-Mayer said of a recent interaction with a vaccine recipient. ”She said she was going to faint and I put the dog on her on the bed and she didn’t. It was incredible. She couldn’t believe it.”

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