| May 29, 2019

Copper, the therapy dog, really works a room. He comes to the Grace Social Activity Centre (GSAC) in Sydenham on Wednesday mornings each week to visit with the participants in one of the Adult Day Program sessions that are a core service of Southern Frontenac Community Services. Copper meanders through the room, visiting with the program participants, reacting to them as they welcome him into their world.

And it is immediately clear that everyone at GSAC loves Copper.

His handler is Trina Mawer of the Parham area. She keeps Copper on a leash during the sessions, and generally takes a back-seat role.

“I am very proud to be a member of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, even though most often people don't remember my name, as it's always all about Copper,” said Trina Mawer.

Trina is a lifelong dog lover, and she prefers large breed dogs. When she got Copper, a Leonberger, she found that not only was he big, but he was also very, very calm and very affectionate. His nickname is ‘Loving Lummox’.

That’s where the idea of putting Copper to work as a therapy dog came in. Trina thought that Copper could bring joy to people who need it.

“When I contacted St. John Ambulance about the therapy dog program, it was the beginning of a long journey. They are very careful about the way the program works, for the sake of the public, the dogs, the dog owners, and their own needs as an organisation,” she said.

“There really isn't any specialised training for a therapy dog, it's mainly their temperament and disposition. Although obviously obedience and manners are imperatively important. A therapy dog must be friendly and get along well with other dogs. Any signs of protection or aggressiveness is not acceptable.” 

The process did not begin with an evaluation of Copper, however. First, they interviewed Trina.

“They wanted to know what kind of person I was, and what I expected out of the program, before they even considered Copper,” she said.

Trina passed muster, and once they met Copper, they knew they had found the right dog for the program.

In addition to the Grace Centre, Trina brings Copper to the Country View Care Retirement Home once a week.

And Copper is an award winner. In his first year with the Therapy Dog program, 2018, he won the ‘rookie of the year’ award from St. Johns for the most visits in his first year with the program.

Although Copper is always game to go to work, it does tire him out.

“After about an hour, even he has had enough attention. He sleeps well when we get home,” said Trina.

Copper also gets a bit of the star treatment.

Not only are all of his medical records 100% up to date at all times, his coat is also soft and fluffy due to brushing at least 3 times a week.  He also “indulges in going to the 'spa' every 8 weeks at Groom to Bloom in Hartington,” Trina, “Lauren [who runs Groom to Bloom] gives him superb attention as her specialty is knowing the various breeds, coats and specifications.” 

The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program started in June, 1992 as a pilot program in Peterborough, and is now a nationwide program of St. John’s Ambulance. As of 2015 there were 3,000 dog teams across the country.

They visit senior’s homes, hospitals and other care facilities, as well as schools and universities.

For further information about the program, contact the Kingston office at (613) 384-8062

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