'The whole waiting room calmed down:' Therapy dogs approved for Charlottetown ER

Therapy dogs have been approved to be regular visitors to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. After a successful pilot project, Health P.E.I. has decided to make a long-term commitment to allowing the dogs into the emergency room.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital to have therapy dogs on site twice a week for one hour a day

Donna Hassard says people in the ER were more relaxed in the company of her therapy dog Tully. (Donna Hassard)

Patients at a Charlottetown hospital will have something new to help ease their anxiety while they wait to see a doctor.

Therapy dogs will become regular visitors in the emergency department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 

The hospital has decided to allow the dogs into the waiting area of the emergency room after hearing feedback from a couple of pilot projects.

"Everything we heard back from the patients and families that were here was extremely positive," said Mike MacDonald, the nurse manager of the QEH emergency department.

MacDonald and a social worker came up with the idea. They sought out volunteers and their therapy dogs to come into the hospital.

Volunteers and their therapy dogs will be at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital twice a week. (Laura Meader/CBC )

"It is a highly stressful area, people are in crisis when they come for various reasons and the dog was enough to take their focus somewhere else," he said. 

"The dog really brings out the best in people." 

Two days a week

Volunteers said they're happy to help out when they see the effect their dogs have on the patients. 

"It was found that the whole waiting room calmed down," said Donna Hassard, the co-team leader of Therapeutic Paws Canada, whose dog Tully was part of a pilot project. 

Chance is one of the dogs who brings smiles to people in the waiting room of the ER. (Laura Meader/CBC News)

"People were more relaxed, there were more smiles and laughs. It's the connection with a warm loving animal that isn't judging them, doesn't care what they look like."

Volunteers and their dogs will be at the hospital two days a week for one hour a day — usually in late afternoon when the ER tends to get busy.

"Our therapy dogs can only work for one hour at a time — they love it, but it is very hard work for them," Hassard said.

Designated area

The therapy dogs stay on one side of the waiting area, so if people are not comfortable with dogs they can stay in another area. A sign is also posted on the door when dogs are on site. 

A sign lets patients know a dog is in the waiting room. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Hassard also said the dogs are kept very clean to help avoid any issues people might have with allergies.

"It's usually dander that people are allergic to, and because these dogs are groomed so regularly they don't have the same dander issue," she said.

Other spaces are available for people to wait if issues arise, the hospital said.

MacDonald said in the future, therapy dogs may be used in other areas of the hospital, as well.