Furry special guests bring joy and comfort to blood donors

Nervous about donating blood? Andrew Moss has helped bring puppy love to mobile donor events in Nova Scotia

July 20, 2022
A therapy dog with his male handler

It all started with a committed blood donor with a passion for pups.

For years, Andrew Moss has donated blood regularly at the mobile donor events in New Glasgow, a small riverside town in northern Nova Scotia. He’s also a volunteer with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

Knowing many people feel anxious about donating blood, it occurred to Andrew that Fearghas, his own trained Goldendoodle, could help.

“It's been well documented that interaction with a dog or other animal helps to lower blood pressure, and bring a sense of well-being,” explains Andrew. “That certainly happens with dog therapy, and I have a good dog for that.

“Fearghas has a nice temperament. He's very calm and he's pretty cool.”

Therapy dog sitting
Fearghas, a St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog, brings joy to blood donors at some mobile donor events in Pictou County, N.S.

Andrew’s idea was an easy sell. Canadian Blood Services employees saw right away that therapy dogs could bring joy and comfort to both donors and employees at mobile donor events. They recommended Andrew and Fearghas start by visiting some high school blood donation events, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For a lot of the students, it was their first-time donating blood, and they were nervous,” says Andrew. “So they thought the dog therapy would help, and I think it did. Fearghas was very well received.”

A group of students pre-COVID at a blood donor event with therapy dogs
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, St. John Ambulance therapy dogs were popular visitors at high school donation events in New Glasgow, N.S. Today, they continue to support donors at community events.

‘The greatest therapy ever’ for blood donors

These days, Andrew and other volunteers with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program — both human and canine — are regulars at the mobile donor events at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.

While dogs aren’t permitted at bedside, donors can see them when they arrive and enjoy a cuddle afterward.

“When donors and staff come into the event, their eyes light up!” says donor centre supervisor Rosalie Sampson. “And donors know that when they get off the donation beds, the dogs are going to be waiting for them.”

Since not everyone is a dog lover, and some people have allergies, the handlers are trained to hold back and wait for people to approach. The dogs are always on-leash and under the control of their dedicated handlers.

Fearghas and friends have made an especially positive impact during the pandemic, Rosalie says.

“Young or old, staff or donors, since the pandemic started, anxieties have been high. This is just the greatest therapy ever, with no side effects, and no cost!” she says.

“Well, it has cost me snacks. I’ve given my sugar snap peas to the dogs. Not everybody likes sugar snap peas. But the dogs did!”

A woman wearing a mask crouches down with a therapy dog
Canadian Blood Services employee Rosalie Sampson with Murphy, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog.

Dogs are a blood donor’s best friend for selfies

Susan Muir, another volunteer with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, has visited the mobile donor events with Murphy, her Bernese mountain dog.

“One lady told me that she was really nervous, and the best part was the dog,” says Susan, who first started taking Murphy to meet blood donors at the early events in high schools. “Everybody wants a turn patting the dog, and they ask questions about him, and tell you stories about their dogs. Everyone says how great it is to have the dogs there.”

Both Murphy and Fearghas have been photographed more times than their handlers and donation event employees can count.

“There are so many selfies with the dogs!” says Rosalie. “Canadian Blood Services has a lot of great options for selfies in the GiveBlood app, but I've seen way more people doing taking selfies with the dogs.”

blood bag

Where is my closest Canadian Blood Services donor centre?

We have donor centres in many communities, and also host thousands of donation events each year across the country. You can look for a centre or event near your home or workplace, or make donating part of your travel plans.

Find a donor centre near you

 

A Bernese Mountain therapy dog at a blood donor clinic
St. John Ambulance therapy dog Murphy attends a mobile blood donation event.

‘If you pet that dog, endorphins!’

Alyssa Melnyk, Community Services Coordinator with St. John Ambulance in Halifax, N.S., isn’t surprised the dogs have been a hit with blood donors— particularly since she’s a donor herself. 

“I am extremely scared of needles,” she says. "Always have been. But I've pushed outside of my comfort zone and am a donor. When you walk in the door you might already be stressed. You might already be full of anxiety. But if you see a dog, it’s a nice distraction. And if you pet that dog, endorphins!”

Wherever the dogs go, whether it’s a long-term care facility, a hospital, a school or a library, she knows they brighten the days of the people they meet.

“Support and comfort are the two main things that I see our therapy dogs provide,” Alyssa says. “Support, and unconditional, non-judgmental love.”

It’s a wonderful gift to blood donors, who are doing so much to help others.

“The dogs have such healing power,” Rosalie says. “You sit beside the dog after your donation. Your heart might be racing, you might not want to wait around for 15 minutes, and then all a sudden this dog is looking at you, and you go over, or the dog comes over, and it distracts and entertains you.

“It’s been nothing but positivity. Or you could say, ‘PAWSitivity’.”

The need is constant for blood, plasma and platelet donors, and it doesn’t take a break for summer. Whether you’re travelling around Canada or staying close to home, find a donor centre or event near you and book an appointment today.

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