Score is an affable, fun-loving volunteer who takes on a number of roles at the Grace Hospital. She provides joy and excitement to patients in the psychiatric ward, and comfort and rest to those in the final stages of life at the Grace Hospice. And after five years of service, at the ripe age of 14, Score will be retiring in June.
Oh, did I mention Score is a dog?
Even though she weighs just over three kilograms, the black and white papillon is larger than life. She has what appears to be a permanent smile etched upon her face and oozes a confidence as she approaches anyone and everyone looking for a little scratch behind the ear, or, if you're feeling up to it, a little game of catch the ball. In her previous life, she was an international flyball champion and Superdogs performer.
She came to her owner, Janie Law, at the age of eight as a retired show dog. She had hurt her back, and, though recovered, could not retain the agility she once had in order to compete.
"At the time, I had another older papillon, a schnauzer, some cats, horses, but I knew right away that Score was just completely bored," says Law. "So I enrolled Score in the St. John Ambulance's Therapy Dog Program."
Pet therapy dogs must go through a process of rigorous testing with their owners in order to be certified to volunteer in this capacity. Score passed with flying colours, and she and Law were placed at the Grace Hospital.
For the last five years, every Friday at the Grace is known as "Score Day." She takes part in a program called Fun and Fitness with patients living with mental illness.
"Experiences like visits from Score really helps individuals," says Glen McMahon, a recreation therapist in the mental-health department at the Grace Hospital for the last 25 years. "I use a therapeutic approach -- a lot of my programs are a sensory kind of experience, anything that gets people laughing or thinking beyond their issues. I find it's a very powerful kind of internal stabilizer. It creates motivation to participate, it creates a relief from not just the day-to-day stresses, but also the stresses people bring with them that have sort of created the reasons for people coming into the hospital."
McMahon says patients make a special effort to come out and participate in Fun and Fitness, a chair-exercise program, when Score comes, which, in turn, helps individuals get out and socialize with others. Score seeks out people who need a little positive attention and is very gentle with them. She sometimes stands in the middle of the circle playing with balls and barking, inciting plenty of laughter.
"Score goes from being rambunctious there to going over to the hospice and providing patients with gentle comfort," says Jennifer Cawson, the hospital's manager of volunteer services.
"She will curl up and sleep with patients at the hospice," says Law. "One woman swore that when she held Score her blood pressure would go down, so one day while she was holding Score, the nurses checked, and sure enough her blood pressure and heart rate went down. She fell asleep, and so did Score, for 21/2 hours."
She says everywhere they go, people know Score.
"I'm just the person at the end of the leash," Law laughs.
But her contribution cannot be understated, because without Law's incredible volunteer work, there'd be no Score to brighten up people's days. It should be noted Law has been volunteering with various organizations within the community since she was 15 years old.
"Volunteering with Score means, for me, sharing the love that I have for dogs with others," she says.
"Everything dogs can give, whether distraction or comfort, seeing the expressions on the faces of patients, families and staff members when Score arrives, to me, it's like drinking a bottle of champagne without the hangover."
On June 7, the Grace Hospital's tiniest volunteer will be handing in her ID card (yes, she has a photo identification card hanging around her collar) and retiring from volunteer service, but the smiles, laughter, comfort and memories she has provided along the way will likely stay in the hearts of patients, families and staff for many years to come.
To learn more about the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program you can visit their website at www.sja.ca/Canada/Communityservices/programs/Pages/TherapyDogServices.aspx.
To learn more about volunteering at Grace Hospital please visit their website at www.gracehospital.ca.
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at firstname.lastname@example.org.