A number of seniors in the Alberni Valley have been benefitting from some “pet therapy” thanks to a friendly border collie.
Wesley, a border collie living in Port Alberni, pays weekly visits to seniors’ care homes in Port Alberni—including Fir Park Village, Echo Village and Westhaven—along with his handler, Ian Elliot.
Surjit Jhaj, the director of programming and adult day services for the Alberni-Clayoquot Continuing Care Society, said that Elliot reached out to him about a year ago about the possibility of bringing Wesley into seniors homes for some pet therapy.
With pet therapy, specially-trained animals—typically dogs or cats—provide comfort and cheer to elderly people by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and assisted living facilities. One seniors home in Castlegar even uses chickens for animal therapy.
Jhaj says that the visits from Wesley are a “huge benefit” to the residents.
“It brings them joy, it brings them company,” he explained. “Every person has probably owned an animal at some point in their life, so it brings memories of their own family. It brings a smile to their faces. They brighten up, they become more alert and cognitive. They start participating and engaging.”
“He’s everyone’s dog for an hour,” added Elliot. “For a few minutes they go back to being a kid again.”
Wesley usually spends his hour chasing after a ball thrown by residents. Some of the residents, said Jhaj, have limited cognitive abilities.
“But they know automatically that a dog fetches,” he added.
Kathy Saunders, who works at Fir Park Village, explained that residents who have previously been quiet will start to chat about some of their past pets and animals.
“He brings back a lot of memories,” she added. “It’s an unconditional love kind of thing.”
Elliot got Wesley as a rescue dog back in 2014, at which point the dog was “in really bad shape” and unsocialized, said Elliot.
Fast forward to today, and Wesley is professionally certified and spends his afternoons helping strangers.
“He enjoys coming here so much,” said Elliot. “I’m so happy that he turned out the way he did.”
Wesley and Elliot can also be spotted out for frisbee every day at Harbour Quay.