Meet Our “Dog Of The Day” Bridgette the English Bulldog
A St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog
Today we are inspired again by the human-animal bond and the ability of dogs like Bridgette to help people of all ages. We chatted with her partner Denis, a self-proclaimed “lifetime volunteer” for numerous causes, about his therapy visits with Bridgette and how they are making a difference.
Getting Involved With The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program
“Bridgette or “Miss B” at birth was very quiet and continued on being that way after her puppy stage. You knew she just loved to meet people and pets alike. She was the social butterfly of our street. If you were out putting out your garbage or taking a walk, Bridgette always wanted to say hello.”
Denis’ wife is a pet care professional, so she wanted Bridgette to be socialized with people and pets as much as possible from an early age. It didn’t hurt that they had their own little zoo at home with 2 cats, 1 guinea pig, 3 turtles, and 1 tortoise. Bridgette also successfully completed grade 3 in PetSmart schooling (3×6 week sessions). Just look at her cute squishy face and you know she is made to make people smile.
After 35 plus years of volunteering for numerous charities and causes, Denis was looking at a possible early retirement. He was ready to undertake a new volunteer role to fill his extra free time. That’s when a coworker mentioned getting involved with his young bulldog in the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.
Volunteering for a world renowned and respected charity like St.John Ambulance that is rich in history and results was a perfect fit for Denis and his special dog.
Denis had Bridgette evaluated for therapy work at the first opportunity when she was around two. After completing the evaluation and mentoring sessions, followed by a police check for Denis (the “handler”), Bridgette passed with flying colors. The pair became a St. John Ambulance therapy dog and handler team. Bridgette is one of 86 in the Niagara Region branch whose owners volunteer their time to visit hospitals, schools, seniors residences and community centres.
“Having one of my best friends Bridgette visiting seniors and kids of all ages with me was a win-win situation for all.”
If you are contemplating trying to become a St. John Ambulance dog team you must first of all have a really stable, loving, outgoing, but controllable dog that can pass the requirements of the evaluation.
The therapy dog and handler team must follow the rules set out by St. John Ambulance and of the place they are visiting. The handler must be able and willing to try to agree to regular visits and to keep in touch if plans change for any reason.
Sessions With Bridgette the Therapy Bulldog
Golden Retrievers and Labradors are the most common larger therapy dog breeds in the St. John Ambulance program. The small dogs are of many varieties. But Bridgette is an exception, she’s the only therapy bulldog in Denis’ branch and possibly in the program.
This helps set Bridgette apart from others. She is always a big hit in parades and wherever they go the bulldog breed is not very common but they are born entertainers. People see them on TV or in magazine advertisements but not in real life, too often making her an instant celebrity while on therapy visits.
Bridgette gets to spend a lot of time with Denis while on therapy visits where she makes people smile, laugh, play, reminisce about their past and the pets that they had. She brings cheer to the lonely or depressed and even lowers blood pressure in certain individuals.
“The dogs are non-judgmental and offer unconditional love and it makes people happy even if short lived.”
Bridgette and Denis visit a senior home in Grimsby, Ontario named ‘Maple Crest’. The seniors just love Bridgette to pieces as displayed by the staff, patients, and management. Their 1.5 to 2-hour visiting session at the retirement home starts with visiting everyone in the front foyer, heading to the basement floor to meet people on their coffee break and then joining a group at their bowling session. Bridgette and Denis mingle and join in on their exercises and fun. The type of therapy dog visit will vary from place to place and from individual to individual.
Things that could possibly affect your type of visit could be the layout of the building, comfortable area for therapy dog team and visitors, the mental or physical condition of people being visited. Some places might have therapy dogs go room to room, while others will have everyone congregate to a larger open area for the visiting.
A Special Therapy Dog Visit
Denis shared a unique story about one of his therapy visits at a university puppy room. “While on the visit, a staff member came by to see the therapy dog teams at work. Our dogs are taught to not jump up on people. This staff person came up to 2 of our dogs and instead of our dogs staying on the floor, both dogs had a paw resting against the chest of the person. Everyone couldn’t believe why the dogs reacted this way. A week or so later that same staff member had a heart attack, the dogs must have known something was wrong with their health.
This person is well now and has come to our puppy room two years in a row to see those same 2 therapy dogs for a free checkup and now both dogs are seated on the floor like they should be. This person told us that they felt so relieved that the dogs now acknowledged a clean bill of health.”
Bridgette The Star Therapy Bulldog