Happiness is a warm puppy at the Herb Bassett Home

Jodi Schellenberg
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As Mike Bassett and his chocolate lab Cocoa walk down the corridors of the Herb Bassett Home in Prince Albert, smiles abound.

Bassett and Cocoa are part of the volunteer Pet Therapy program in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region (PAPHR) and took the Daily Herald on a field trip to the Herb Bassett Home.

In the program, volunteers bring in their pets to visit residents to help cheer them up.

“One of the benefits is certainly the interaction between the residents and the pets,” said Sonya Jahn, director of Volunteer Services for PAPHR. “It is just really a nice way to even give the sense of reminiscing (for) the residents who may have had a pet of their own when they were independent and living on their own at home.

“We see how their eyes light up and it is just such a wonderful interaction. Their eyes light up, they smile and they are quite eager to pet the dogs.”

Bassett has been visiting residents for a number of years, but didn’t start bringing Cocoa with him until around 2007.

“Once we started I was sorry I didn’t bring her sooner,” Bassett said. “If I was in here, I would want everyone to bring their dogs. I love dogs and there are a lot of people who do. It warms their hearts and it warms mine too and I just love it.”

It is important to bring Cocoa to visit the resident to help them with their stay happy.

“There are a lot of people who really want to see the dog and others they just might not show an interest,” Bassett said. “So many are just glued to the dog. As soon as they see her they want her. She is soft, she’s friendly and she wouldn’t hurt a soul.”

One of the reasons Bassett brings Cocoa to visit is because he believes it is a good thing to do.

“It is good Christian work and … I just love it,” he said. “I feel I’m doing something positive. I feel we all have a job to do and this is one that fits me.”

Since he is semi-retired, visiting residents is a great fit for Bassett.

“We come every Thursday and Sunday,” Bassett said. “On Thursday we help with the service and bring everyone down but then I don’t have a chance to visit with them like I usually do, so then we come on Sunday from the Alliance.

“I live 20 miles out, so if I come to town and it fits the schedule, we’ll come down too,” he added. “Lately I have been here a lot because I’ll be taking off for a bit.”

When he is not going to be around for extended periods of time, Bassett makes sure he lets the residents know.

“I have done this long enough that these people expect you and if you don’t show up, (they ask) did something happen to you or did they get abandoned,” Bassett said.

For many of the residents, Bassett said, they are alone and don’t have family or friends to visit.

“When I was with the Presbyterian Church, it was an elderly congregation, they had an interim minister the one time and he said, ‘I was only here two weeks and I noticed so many people here, this is the only family they have,’” Bassett said. “It is like that here too. There are a lot of residents here that don’t have anyone coming to see them.

“I know for a fact there are a lot of people who don’t have anybody,” he added. “We will visit with anyone who wants to visit. It is a good thing we have time because we see more and more people (all the time). It works well.”

It takes them close to two hours to visit 30 to 40 residents, he said.

“A lot of residents it is just, ‘How are you doing?’ and they might pet the dog and then say, ‘Have a good day,’ and there are others that we visit with for a longer time,” Bassett said. “We don’t cut anybody short.”

While walking through the home, Bassett’s caring personality shone through, with him taking the time to visit with residents, even those who had trouble communicating, while they interacted with Cocoa.

“We all have a job to do and this is one I enjoy is visiting people who might not have anybody,” Bassett said. “I do tell people when you are doing volunteer work, no matter what it is, the love and peace you get back … I’ll walk out of here a lot of times and feel like I got more out of it than they did because they got so much out of it.”

Although Cocoa is the only dog Bassett has brought to the long-term care homes, he hopes to continue his volunteer work long into the future.

“This is the only dog I’ve visited with but from now on it will be any dog we have,” Bassett said.

Jahn said getting visits from the Pet Therapy volunteers helps many residents who are confined to the home.

“It is a really nice way to certainly remind the residents of the pleasant times they may have spent with their pets in the past,” Jahn said. “It is a great way to bring a positive atmosphere into the room. Certainly the residents just light up and really enjoy that interaction.”

Although there are some residents who may not like animals, the volunteers understand and respect that.

“The volunteers who are working in the pet therapy program are certainly mindful of that and they get that information ahead of time before they begin to bring their pets in for the pet therapy program,” Jahn said.

Those who do like the pets are a minority, as most want to spend time with the animals.

“Sometimes the resident is directly focused on the animal and not necessarily the volunteer so they are the ones who take a back seat in all of this,” Jahn said. “They are instrumental in making sure that the pets are taken to the appropriate rooms where the residents who will ideally benefit from the pet therapy program.”

The Pet Therapy is therapeutic, giving residents a chance to interact and touch a live animal in a long-term care setting.

There are about six to eight Pet Therapy volunteers who spend time with the residents throughout the year.

“There is protocol that the owner must follow -- the pet needs to be vaccinated against rabies and have all their vaccinations up-to-date,” Jahn said. “They need to be clean and well groomed obviously, house trained, obedient and have a good temperament. The owner of the pet needs to be registered with the volunteer services department prior to getting their volunteer work in pet therapy.”

PAPHR appreciated the work the volunteers do through the program.

“It is a really tremendous interaction for the residents and the volunteers who are bringing in their animals for the residents,” Jahn said. “It is a really wonderful program.”

Jahn said they are always willing to have more volunteers in the Pet Therapy program. Those interested can call Volunteer Services at 306-765-6010.

In addition to the Pet Therapy program, there are also resident animals in some homes in the health region.

One of the doors in the Herb Bassett Home joked to watch out for the “resident guard cat” that was on duty.

“In some of our long-term care facilities throughout the region we have dogs that actually live in the home and we also have cats that live in the home following the new Eden philosophy.”

Organizations: Daily Herald, Volunteer Services for PAPHR, Alliance Presbyterian Church

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