Therapy dogs helping with COVID-19 vaccinations in Montreal


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The local health department says the dogs have helped people who are afraid of needles or are concerned about side effects.

Author of the article:

The Canadian press

Stephanie Marin

At the Lasalle District Vaccination Clinic in Montreal, the local health authority is using animal therapy to help people who are afraid of needles or worried about side effects. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette files

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Divine Nsabimana was scared of getting her COVID-19 vaccine. When she arrived at a vaccination center on Thursday evening, the staff felt her discomfort so much.

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But a dog, Bidule and a zootherapist jumped into action, calming and distracting the young woman until she was vaccinated – without realizing it.

At the Lasalle District Vaccination Clinic in Montreal, the local health authority is using animal therapy to help people who fear needles or are concerned about side effects.

Nsabimana was vaccinated while she still had Bidule on her lap. Nurses asked her if she was ready and then informed her that they had already given the injection. Nsabimana burst out laughing.

After the vaccination, she said she was afraid of the second dose because she heard the side effects were likely to be more intense than the first dose.

But while petting the dog, she said, she forgot her fears.

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“I was more busy with the dog. I didn’t focus on the vaccine anymore, ”she said. “It really helped.”

The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’île-de-Montréal uses animal therapy in vaccination clinics to help people who do not yet need to be vaccinated because they are afraid of needles or side effects. The project is being carried out with the help of the Corporation des zoothérapeutes du Québec.

On Thursday, two trained therapy dogs took turns at the Center Sportif Dollard-St-Laurent in Lasalle, one of the two locations where zootherapy is offered. The other is in the Gerry Robertson Community Center in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

“The dogs can’t work more than three hours a day,” said Anne-Sophie Rousseau, an animal therapist who spent the afternoon with a dog named Theo before Bidule took over in the evening.

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One of the people using the service was 15 year old Elizabeth Barker. She didn’t enjoy her first COVID-19 shot at school and said she was nervous that night.

“He’s a baby, you know, he’s not even a year old,” said Sylvain Gonthier, kneeling in front of the teenager, who was melting when Bidule came up to her.

“It is perfectly normal to be afraid,” added Gonthier.

Barker was vaccinated while feeding the dog some dry food. She felt the needle, she said shortly afterwards, but never looked away from Bidule. “You made my night,” she told the animal therapist, while her father looked on reassuringly. “Ten out of ten.”

Animal therapy isn’t just about putting an animal on a person’s lap, Gonthier later explained. Rather, it is about using the animal to connect with the person, he added, in order to establish communication and connection.

“The animal is a great facilitator for introducing a new person,” added Anne-Sophie Rousseau. “And it’s a motivator. Sometimes the child is ready to do something for the dog that it would not have done for me. “

The CIUSSS started offering zootherapy in June last year when high school students received their first dose. Given the success of the experiment, they repeated it in late August and opened it to everyone.

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