Therapy puppies turn Montreal vaccinations into ‘positive, almost playful experience’

MONTREAL – Divine Nsabimana was nervous about getting her second COVID-19 vaccine.

She heard that the second dose would have more side effects than the first. Nevertheless, given her fears, she went to a clinic in Lasalle on Thursday.

Among the regular hospital staff, this clinic employs Bidule, a staff member whose main job is to help people like Nsabimana get the injection.

Although Bidule was trained for the job, his natural talents are undeniable: he’s a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, blessed with a glossy coat of caramel-colored fur.

When Nsabimana arrived at the clinic, Bidule was sitting on her lap as the nurse prepared the needle.

The zootherapist Sylvain Gonthier asked if she was ready to receive her injection.

She nodded.

“Well, it’s already done,” he said, revealing a smooth choreography between him, Bidule and the nurse Lucie Chabot, who had administered the shot discreetly without Nsabimana noticing.

“Congratulations!” repeated Gonthier. “Well done!”

Nsabimana burst out laughing. Bidule was still on her lap.

“I was more busy with the dog,” said Nsabimana. “I was no longer focused on the vaccine. It really helped. “

The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal has decided to bring animal therapy to the clinic to help people with fear of needles and side effects get through the procedure.

To this end, the Health Council has teamed up with the Corporation des zoothérapeutes du Québec.

CIUSSS began offering animal therapy last June when high school students were newly eligible to get the syringe. They managed to make people more comfortable and the service opened to everyone at the end of August.

“It made a big difference for all ages,” said Halinka Sanson, nurse and vaccination director at the Dollard-St-Laurent Sports Center.

Two dogs and their handlers are employed at the Lasalle Dollard-St-Laurent Sports Center and another is stationed at the Gerry-Robertson Community Center in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

One of Bidule’s other clients was Elizabeth Barker, 15, who arrived at the clinic Thursday night. She hadn’t had much fun with her first injection, given at school, and was afraid of the second.

“He’s a baby, you know. He’s not even a year old,” said Sylvain Gonthier as he put the living stuffed animal on Barker’s lap, which melted when it was taken.

“It is perfectly normal to be afraid.”

Gonthier asked Barker to help him feed Bidule. When she offered the snack, she got the shot.

Barker says she felt the needle but never took her eyes off the dog.

“You enriched my evening,” she said to the vet and gave her experience a “10 out of 10” perfect.

Animal therapy doesn’t just mean putting an animal on a person’s lap, explains Gonthier, who offers his services through the “À quatre pattes” veterinary clinic.

Rather, zootherapists work on creating a connection between themselves, the animal and the patient. The goal, explained Gonthier, is “decentering” [the patient]to take them elsewhere. “

“I’m trying to turn this vaccination into a positive, almost playful experience,” he said.

– This report was first published in French by The Canadian Press on August 28, 2021.

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