By ERIN HORROCKS-POPE
Inspired by the calm joy that his daughter’s Bernese Mountain Dog, Hershey, had on everyone he met, Beach resident Alan Harman decided to start an organization to share that joy with those who need it.
Since 2020, Sunshine Therapy Dogs has been operating out of the neighbourhood, working with volunteers who donate their time and share their furry friend on visits to seniors’ homes, schools, and workplaces.
Harman is a life-long dog owner and has always been grateful for the comfort his animal companions provided him and his family with. Over the past several years, Harman heard about youth and seniors going through mental, emotional, and spiritual crises more often, and decided to act.
“I thought, maybe if I could help bring some dogs into the company of young adults and then also elderly people in old age facilities, that it would be beneficial to them,” said Harman. “There’s a bunch of research to show that being around animals is helpful for many people, not for everybody, but for many people. So, it felt like a bit of a no brainer to me.”
Prior to the pandemic, Chartwell Avondale, a retirement residence in Leslieville, had provided therapeutic animal visits for residents. Unfortunately, the program was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Earlier this month, Sunshine Therapy Dogs began a new partnership with Chartwell Avondale.
According to Adriana Carola, the facility’s lifestyles and programs manager, the residents were overjoyed by the first visit of two dogs, Maddie and Chico.
“Just sitting down with them [the dogs] and petting them just brings a sense of joy for our residents,” said Carola. “Their eyes just shine and light up when they see the dogs coming in and having those kisses. It’s so good to have a program like this back at our residence.”
Harman is hoping that more people and their four-legged friends get involved with Sunshine Therapy Dogs so they can provide visits for more facilities.
From his own experience and the experiences of volunteers, Harman knows that being involved with his organization is not only beneficial for those who use the service, but those who offer up their time and companion.
“It always feels good to give, and really the best thing that you can give is this gift of mental well-being to someone that needs it, and you can’t do that with a check,” he said. “As a volunteer, you just have to show up with your dog and sit back and let something wonderful happen.”
According to the Sunshine Therapy Dogs website, “dogs are increasingly playing an important role in mental health management.” Many young adults and seniors are suffering from loneliness, anxiety, and stress and that the benefits of interactions with animals can help to reduce these symptoms, said the website.
If you’re interested in volunteering with Sunshine Therapy Dogs or bringing them to your workplace for a session, visit https://www.sunshinetherapydogs.ca/ or call 416-315-2673.