Canine unit spreads holiday cheer to sick kids

Jodi Schellenberg
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They may have the reputation for taking down bad guys, but they are still sweet and cuddly dogs on the inside.

The Prince Albert Police Service, RCMP and the Ministry of Environment banded together to bring Christmas joy to sick children through their canine unit at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert on Monday.

“We come from the K9 units, not just in Prince Albert Police but provincially we are working together to visit the hospitals, the pediatric wards of all the hospitals,” PAPS Sgt. John Bergen said. “This is our first stop of many that are going to happen this week. We are bringing working police dogs into the hospital this year to see the kids that are here.”

The dog visiting the children on Monday was Jaxa, who is two years old and just finished her basic training course.

“I think it helps because it gives the kids and the public an understanding that the dog is not only a working dog,” PAPS officer and Jaxa’s handler Kelsey Bighetty said. “It can be a friendly nice dog that you can enjoy being around.”

The visit from the police dogs helped cheer up many of the children who are in the hospital this Christmas season.

“A lot of it is just to get their minds off where they are and distract them with a bit of what we do,” Bergen said.

“I think it sends a really good message out that you know if you need help you can go to a police officer and their dogs will help you, they aren’t here to hurt you,” Pediatrics nursing unit manager Jane Antoine added. “It is exciting. How often do they get to spend time with a police dog? Not everybody gets that opportunity.”

Cassandra Bendig’s 13-month-old son Carter was just diagnosed with asthma. The asthma combined with a cold landed him in the hospital.

“He has been sitting in that bed and that room and it totally took him out of there into a different atmosphere,” Bendig said about the K9 visit. “He is very happy with it.”

Bergen said it is nice to change people’s opinions on police dogs and this visit to the pediatrics ward proves they aren’t vicious animals.

“We all have our opinions of what a police dog should be and they are much more than someone who fights bad guys,” Bergen said. “Police dogs, they are a search and location tool, they help us find people, they are part of our lives and interact with all ages of people all the time.

“They are not just the vicious dog that some might have images of and the dog being here today is a great example,” Bergen said.

Last year they brought a puppy to visit the children, but this year that wasn’t an option so Jaxa was brought in instead.

Bighetty said Jaxa is a great dog and has been with his family since he got her a few months ago. His two-year-old daughter loves to play with the dog.

“Jaxa is a very nice but very energetic dog to bring in as well,” Bergen said. “I think they were very excited to see the dog. It is definitely not what you expect to see in a hospital.”

Although it may help change the image of police dogs, Bergen said that is not why they want to bring the K9 units to visit the children.

“It is really about the kids and doing something for the kids,” Bergen said. “It is a special holiday season and that is what we are thinking about when we come in is the kids.”

Everyone was thankful the dogs came in and gave the children something else to think about, rather than being sad they are in the hospital.

“Thank you for coming in and distracting all of these children in the ward,” Bendig said. “This isn’t really the place they want to be right now but they need to get healthy and this is the place to do it and a little distraction always helps.”

Organizations: Prince Albert Police Service, RCMP, Ministry of Environment Victoria Hospital

Geographic location: Prince Albert

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