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Dogs Have A History Of Helping Humans

Many people who believe they are isolating themselves from COVID-19 might be surprised to learn that they are still exposed. They may be following advice and staying home, only venturing out for essential needs. When they do leave the shelter of home, they may be vigilant in enforcing the two-metre rule and even consider ‘outing’ others who are not so mindful. They may be washing their hands more often and so often that they are experiencing Guinness Book-levels of dryness and cracking. All that and it still might not be enough to protect themselves from the impact of the virus. Turn on the television, open up the paper, grab for your smartphone and — Bam! — it’s COVID-this, coronavirus-that, growing numbers of infected, growing death tolls and growing anxiety. No matter how much someone is physical distancing, there is a limit to one’s ability to mentally distance and that is taking a toll on emotions and mental health.

Nielsen reports television viewing is up 22 percent in some markets. Newspapers, like the Toronto Star, have eliminated paywalls related to COVID coverage, increasing ease of access to information. Reports indicate that smartphone use has grown by over 40 percent. To escape news of the virus, people are turning to one of the very devices that is helping fuel anxiety, their smartphone, and that is not necessarily a dumb idea — provided a dog is involved. Though isolating, you would not be alone if you are finding yourself consuming more and more pictures, memes and videos of dogs. NJ Wright’s pet ‘Pluto', a talking miniature Schnauzer from Montreal, is one of the latest viral sensations with videos offering advice on how to survive isolation. There’s the video of the Golden Retriever that has a tantrum when the owner tries to leave the pet store. The dog ends up being dragged down an aisle towards the exit. How about that adorable boy riding a bike with a front basket and a wagon in-tow, both of which are packed with Pugs. And by now you must have seen the video of the man from Bali who is riding along on a scooter piled high in dogs. Six of them. Seven including the guy. It is not by mistake that our attention is captured by cute, crazed and chaotic canines. For thousands of years, dogs have been a source of comfort and support. The History Channel reports that, "Prehistoric humans began taming wolves at least 15,000 years ago, transforming dangerous pack predators into loyal companions and creating specialized dog breeds for different tasks.” The History Channel website continues, "In the 1750s, the earliest systematic instruction of guide dogs, as helpers of the visually impaired are known, took place in a Paris hospital for the blind.” Dogs have a history of helping humans, especially during a crisis. In the most recent decades, we are better understanding the extent or degree that dogs can impact health and wellbeing and offer physical and emotional support. While service dogs have been around since the 1700s, therapy dogs have only existed for the last 70 to 80 years. Smokey the Yorkshire Terrier was the first therapy dog. Born in 1943, she served in World War II.

Service and therapy dogs play different roles. A service dog is trained to help people with disabilities such as visual impairments, mental illnesses, seizure disorders, diabetes, etc. A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort and affection to people in hospice, disaster areas, retirement homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and more. Haven Toronto is familiar with dogs, companion dogs and working dogs alike.

Today, Waska, a rescue from northern Quebec, “works” part-time though she can often be found sleeping under the Volunteer Coordinator’s desk. You can read Waska’s profile on the Team page of our website. Before Waska there was Broccoli and Paneer (aka Penny), also rescues. How interesting that a drop-in centre that comes to the aid of elder homeless men has rescue dogs; the two, clients and dogs, get along very well. Dogs have long been a part of Haven Toronto, including Sir Beta, a Labrador Retriever and therapy dog whose handler said enjoyed visiting the clients at Haven Toronto "more than anything." Certified by St John Ambulance at all levels including therapy for children, Beta (later named Mr. Beta and eventually Sir Beta) was placed in many environments around the GTA, like seniors homes, hospitals, schools and hospices. Beta marched in parades, helped the police in community awareness campaigns and occasionally appeared on television. A local celebrity, Beta is honoured in a mural on the side of a building at River & Dundas.

After years of selfless service, Sir Beta passed away on March 27th of this year. With the city in a crisis, emotions running high and the need for comfort never greater, one can only imagine how much support, help and hope Sir Beta could have offered.

Following his passing, those who cared most for Sir Beta paid to make him a member of The FORTUNATE 500 ( Other dogs, and dog handlers, are welcome to join; Sir Beta will always be number one.




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