Paws Up for Volunteers

Meet the volunteer therapy dogs (and their humans) in our Pet Visits program

Pet Therapy


Volunteers play a huge role in the West Park experience, showing up week after week to assist staff and patients, and maybe even get a few head scratches while they’re here.

National Volunteer Week started on Sunday, and West Park is raising a paw for some of their smallest volunteers with the biggest hearts: the therapy dogs (and their humans) in the Pet Visits program.

As with all volunteers, the therapy dogs are an integral part of the healing and recovery process for many patients. It’s often a huge adjustment when patients begin their stay at West Park, but having a visit from a friendly – and furry – face once a week can bring comfort and reminders of home or personal pets.

“Everyone is really excited when they hear they’re going to get a visit from the pet visitors,” says Kandace Assivero, a Recreation Therapy Assistant who oversees the program. “It gives them a sense of home while they’re here.”

The benefits of pet visits are countless, ranging from emotional support and mental health to socializing isolated patients who don’t interact much around the centre. And the benefits jump to the nurses and volunteers themselves, too.

West Park’s gratitude reaches beyond their furry friends; their humans, who bring them here and take them around, are just as involved in the visits as their pups. While their dogs offer a paw or a quick snuggle, it’s their owners who speak to the patients who need it, really making the most of their volunteer time as a team.

One of West Park’s volunteers, Marilyn Wong, and her therapy dog Mr. Darcy have been bringing smiles to patients for five years now. The pair have become “part of the family,” she says, having made strong connections with many people here. Wong describes her volunteer experience as extremely rewarding, noting that “anytime we can see someone smile, it makes my day.”

The Pet Visits program, which has been running for several years, currently has four dog volunteers, with plans to bring more into the pack in the future. With so many patients eager to get a few minutes of face-to-fur time, Assivero says she would like to have enough dogs to implement consistent weekly visits on each floor.

 Two of the dog volunteers completed a training program through St. John Ambulance to become therapy dogs, as well as an assessment with their humans and a 10-visit probationary period together as a team before they become officially part of the program. All future dogs who come into the pogram will also complete the training.

There’s no doubt that these canine colleagues do their best when they’re here. And while there’s no eating allowed on the job, after a long day of snuggles, head scratches, and lending a big, floppy ear to bend, these hard working dogs deserve a treat on their sleepy ride home.