Giant canine companion visits care homes

Winnie, a Newfoundland, and owner Tom Hamming of Abbotsford were recently honoured for their years of service.

  • Jun. 14, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Tom Hamming

Tom Hamming

by Jean Konda-Witte, Contributor

Winnie is a gentle giant who loves being around people.

Just ask her owner Tom Hamming of Abbotsford. The two have been a regular fixture at MSA Manor and Maplewood House since 2005 as part of the St. John Ambulance (SJA) Therapy Dog Program, and they were recently honoured for their many years of service.

“He set the bar so high for the rest of us,” said SJA facilitator Barbara Renkers at the volunteer celebration tea June 5 at MSA Manor in Abbotsford.

“He’s been a faithful volunteer. I don’t think there’s anyone who has put in as much time as the two of them.”

Winnie is a 10-year-old Newfoundland, not the breed one would typically associate with care home visitation. But according to Hamming, it is the perfect breed to interact with seniors because of its calm and docile nature.

“Newfies are pretty laidback. If they keep getting petted they will stay (for a long time),” he said.

Hamming started visiting seniors with his first Newfoundland dog back in 2001. Winnie, his third therapy dog, came on board when she was just a pup and it didn’t take long before she was a favourite at the care homes.

Because she’s so big, she would just put her head right in the lap of residents in wheelchairs, said Karla Stowards, recreational manager with Maplewood Seniors Care Society.

“Some folks don’t interact much, but when Winnie would come they would brighten up. It’s a different way of connecting,” she said.

“She was able to reach out to them and she’d go right up to people she knew. For many, she reminds them of their childhood and the pets they had.”

At 81 and 10 respectively, Hamming and Winnie are stepping back from their volunteer work with the SJA Therapy Dog Program, but they continue to visit at The Cottage extended care facility every Monday.

Hamming sees the positive impact his dog has on the residents there, like Helen, who is confined to her bed. But she looks forward to her weekly visits from Winnie.

“She puts her hand out and the dog runs up to her,” said Hamming. “It brightens up her day; otherwise I wouldn’t do it.”

Now on a slower schedule, Hamming said he and Winnie will keep visiting seniors as long as he can.

“I love it and the people love it.”

For more information on the SJA Dog Therapy Program, visit or call 604-853-8700.