Project: Fostering PAWSitive wellbeing and support

Holly McKenzie and Opal who is a black Great Dane and Therapy Dog in Training.

For this postdoctoral project, I worked with Dr. Colleen Anne Dell and an interdisciplinary team and research advisory group to learn more about a wholistic, responsive support: therapy dog visits. For this study, Fostering PAWSitive wellbeing and support: A qualitative study with therapy dog-handler teams and service providers I facilitated qualitative interviews with therapy dog handlers and service providers to understand a) how therapy dog-handler teams have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, and b) how to strengthen training and policies for St. John Ambulance therapy dog-handler teams visiting with people with mental health and/or substance use concerns.

My inspiration for this research comes from:

  • My PhD, which highlighted the importance of responsive, inclusive supports,
  • My relationship with non-human animals-I grew up with horses and have been training with my Great Dane, Opal, with the goal of becoming a certified therapy dog-handler team with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program (we also visited online as a Therapy Dog in Training Team with PAWS Your Stress in 2020 and 2021), and
  • Dr. Dell’s and other researchers’ work about the importance of the human/non-human animal bond.

Photo by Yvonne Dyck of Opal and I training

Learn more about my approach to this research and initial findings

Jane Smith and Murphy, an English Springer Spaniel, the first therapy dog and handler to visit an Emergency Department in Canada, the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon Saskatchewan

This is Jane Smith and Murphy, the first therapy dog-handler team to visit an Emergency Department (ED) in Canada – the Royal University Hospital (RUH) in Saskatoon SK – and a member of this project’s advisory group. Jane wrote Murphy Mondays, a children’s book about their visits at the RUH ED, which was published with the support of an RUH Foundation HUG grant. Click here for information about where you can purchase Murphy Mondays and to learn more about this fabulous team. Photo credit: Royal University Hospital Foundation

Funding for this research was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through the Banting Fellowship competition, and the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. This research has been approved by the University of Saskatchewan’s Behavioural Research Ethics Board and this study’s ethics number is 2405.

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