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Therapy dog teams receive special recognition at Yorkton ceremony

Last week four of the therapy dog teams received special recognition from Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Council at a presentation in Yorkton.
Patti Kipper and Toscane, Lisa Schwann and Dexter, Cheryl Loster and Nova, and Deb McInnes and Zach.

YORKTON - It was June 16, 2023 when a 24-seat bus left the Dauphin Active Living Centre heading out on a day trip to a casino.

They never made it.

The bus was going south on Highway 5 and crossing the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway when it was hit by a semi-trailer truck..

Sixteen of the 25 people onboard, mostly seniors, were killed after their bus collided with the semi late in the morning of June 16.

The accident left the people in Dauphin shaken.

That’s when St. John’s Ambulance Community Services stepped in, including rally therapy dog teams in Saskatchewan which headed to the Manitoba to lend a helping hand, or paw as the case may be.

Last week four of the therapy dog teams received special recognition from Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut Council at a presentation in Yorkton.

“We extend our sincerest thanks to the extraordinary therapy dog teams from Saskatchewan who selflessly supported Manitoba's response to the Dauphin Community following the tragic accident near Carberry, MB on June 16, 2023. Your unwavering dedication and boundless compassion have left a lasting mark on the hearts of countess individuals within the community,” noted a letter signed Ruth Howard, Director of Community Services, MB-NT-NU, read at the presentation.

“Together with the teams from Manitoba, over 20 facilities received therapy dog visits, impacting over 2000 residents of all ages. You shared not only your time but also your unwavering support, offering them a source of strength and companionship during challenging times. Your presence brought smiles to faces, warmth to hearts, and a sense of hope to those in need. Your commitment to providing therapy dog services transcended geographical boundaries, embodying the essence of unity and collaboration.”

The letter continued highlighting the therapy teams; Lisa Schwann and Dexter, Patti Kipper and Toscane, Deb McInnes and Zach and Cheryl Loster and Nova. The letter then noted, “Your tireless efforts have made a profound difference in the lives of others, reminding us of all the power of love and compassion in building stronger, more resilient communities.

As you receive these well-deserved Chair Commendation awards today, know that your efforts have not gone unnoticed. You are true heroes, and your kindness will forever be remembered and appreciated.”

“It was an honour for us to do it,” said Schwann, who told Yorkton This Week they have been involved providing support to family and friends of those in crisis on several occasions.

Schwann said the dogs – which are specially trained and certified – provide something human helpers cannot.

“They’re 100 per cent non-judgmental. They love you for who you are,” she said, adding people quickly realize they can relax and just be themselves with the canine therapy supporters.

“It’s that unconditional love.”

While being called out to something like what happened in Manitoba is of special note, the therapy dogs are out at schools, senior centres, and long term care facilities all year round. Schwann estimated she and Dexter do 90-100 visits a year.

McInnes and Zach have been involved for years with the program. In fact for McInnes it is her second therapy animal, and she is training a third.

But, why?

“Because I know what dogs can do,” she said.

As for being in Dauphin, it was sort of a strange experience.

“It was a town of silence,” said McInnes, adding it was obvious the people were grieving.

That’s where the dogs helped. McInnes related going to a mall with Zach, and meeting someone who started petting the dog, and then beginning to talk about how they had lost three friends in the bus accident.

“How do you put that into words?” asked McInnes.

Kipper said the dogs naturally have a way of connecting with people without expectation or pressure allowing many a chance to really grieve.

“We couldn’t have done that as people,” she said. “. . . It’s just the impact the dogs have.”

Kipper also said the Dauphin experience was rather grounding.

“It really made you stop and realize how precious life is,” she said.

Glenn Kaleta is from Dauphin. Being on-site he helped the therapy teams get to the places they needed to be at the time. He said they were so fortunate to have the dogs involved.

“They had such a calming, soothing effect,” he told Yorkton This Week. “It was much needed. Much appreciated.”