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Pilot project utilizes trainers and their four-legged companions at Canadian Blood Services clinics

Therapy dog trainer Chantal Thibeault and her 16-month-old golden doodle named Annie are shown at Canadian Blood Services in Charlottetown recently. Thibeault brought the dog along to help provide comfort to patients who were waiting to give blood.
Therapy dog trainer Chantal Thibeault and her 16-month-old golden doodle named Annie are shown at Canadian Blood Services in Charlottetown recently. Thibeault brought the dog along to help provide comfort to patients who were waiting to give blood. - Katie Smith

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Islanders who donated blood in Charlottetown recently had a chance to be comforted by a four-legged therapist.

Annie, a 16-month-old golden doodle service dog-in-training who moonlights as a therapy dog, was on site during the blood clinic. Her presence was part of a pilot project between Canadian Blood Services and Therapy Tailblazers, the therapy dog division of Maritime Assistance Canines (MAC) based in New Brunswick and comprised of dog owners who volunteer with therapy dogs in the community. The goal is to make patients feel more at ease and to keep patients’ minds off of giving blood before their appointments.

“One of her duties is to help blood donors feel relaxed before their appointments (and) to help people who might be apprehensive about giving blood,” her trainer, Chantal Thibeault, told The Guardian. “So, this is to hopefully change their thoughts and relax them. They enjoy petting the dog while they wait.”

Dogs can sense if a person in anxious, Thibeault said.

“When you see a dog, usually you forget what you were thinking about. And the cuddling and the warmth and soft fur — I think it just takes away a bit the anxiety of what’s about to happen.”

While Annie was on comfort duties at the blood clinic earlier this week, she’s actually being trained by Thibeault to become a psychiatric dog where she will help her new owner with issues such as panic attacks.

“I don’t know the science behind it, but it probably releases some endorphins or something that makes you feel good and gets the stress away,” Thibeault said, adding once a dog is trained and placed with its new owner, it undergoes continuous training.

“Like any other dogs, if you don’t work on the skills, they will lose them,” she said, adding a person might not have the time or energy to do the training, so MAC checks in regularly.

“They keep an eye on the dog to ensure it doesn’t revert back to being the way they were before training.”

The two New Brunswick breeders who supply the golden doodles to MAC include Chai Kennels and Hazy Daisy Doodles.

Thibeault said she loves what she does.

“Being a volunteer with Tailblazers, it’s a great way to use your love of dogs and wanting to help humans as well, so you kind of bring the two together, and that’s the part I like a lot.”

For more information about Therapy Tailblazers or MAC, contact Thibeault at chantalthibeault1@gmail.com.

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