A furry friend is helping to comfort those affected by the B.C. wildfires.
Mac, a golden retriever who serves as a “therapy dog” at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Abbotsford, is in the midst of a seven-day deployment to the Kamloops evacuation centre with handler Dawn Holt.
Holt, a UFV counsellor, is registered as a clinician with the Provincial Emergency Health Services, which manages the provincial disaster psychosocial services team.
Mac is also registered as one of three PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society) dogs on the team. (The other two are with police victim services.)
Holt and Mac left over the weekend and are now working one-on-one with individuals, providing clinical assistance where needed and offering psychological first aid to evacuees, staff and first responders.
“Mac and I will do whatever we are asked to do – from handling out water and food to doing mental health assessments,” Holt wrote in a statement before she left.
Mac’s Facebook page relates some of his experience so far: “The children who had to leave their beloved pets behind cried into my fur, the lady with diabetes leaned on me as we walked to the nurses tent, the volunteers … took a break to ruffle my fur and take some breaths.”
Mac, now 13, accompanies Holt to work every day at UFV, where he is the world’s first registered therapy dog working at a university.
There, he helps students cope with stress and is available for inclusion in counselling sessions. To retain his status, he is re-certified with Holt every year through PADS.