Therapy Tails Ontario is a Niagara-based non-profit organization whose therapy services have literally gone to the dogs.
It was founded by Tina Hill in 2010, to improve the lives of physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially-disadvantaged individuals, through regular visits and programs that use the expertise of caseworkers, co-ordinators, teachers, caregivers, and parents to enhance the effectiveness of canine therapy.
Hill’s motto for Therapy Tails is “live with purpose.” A lover of dogs, she believed that motto applied to dogs and not just people.
Therapy Tails Laura Gmaz has been volunteering with her seven-year old Black Labrador Retriever Bella for the past five years. She has seen the positive impact of canine therapy, especially for kids who participate in the Tell Tales Reading program.
The reading program takes place in community locations, including schools, libraries and special-needs facilities, encouraging children to read to dogs in an encouraging, non-judgmental environment to help them become more social and interactive.
“With kids, they’ll be afraid of the dog at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year they are cuddling with them, and at the same time have enhanced their literacy skills,” says Gmaz.
Even though Hill passed away in 2015, her vision to help enhance mental well-being through the love of a canine companion carries on with the organization’s 200 volunteers, some of whom have multiple dogs.
The volunteers and their dogs provide therapeutic services for a variety of organizations and specialized healthcare facilities, including schools, long-term care homes, day programs, hospitals, libraries, mental health facilities and rehabilitation centres.
Therapy Tails teams can be found at regularly-scheduled times on a weekly basis, and at community events such as Sunday’s Peach Festival at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, to raise awareness on the importance of mental health, Gmaz said.
Other programs incorporated into the organization are Paws for Respect, visits for individuals with unique special needs, and the organization’s newest program, Bereavement Recovery.
Paws 4 Respect is an anti-bullying program that uses a therapy dog to help encourage those being bullied to speak up, and make adults aware of the challenges they are facing.
The special needs program creates connections with children with autism, Alzheimer patients, mentally-challenged individuals, stroke victims and other unique situations.
The Bereavement Recovery program works with people who have lost a loved one, especially children. Gmaz says the Therapy Tails members are trained to respond, respect and help anyone who is going through the difficulty of losing someone they were close to.
Gmaz says the organization’s volunteers are spread throughout the Niagara Region and recently has begun to expand into the Grimsby area, adding there are a handful of volunteers in the Hamilton area.
Since she began volunteering, she says, “I love being out in the community with Bella at the various locations. To see the impact she has on people, especially going into seniors’ homes, is very rewarding. Anywhere I can take my dog, I’m all for it.”
The organization is always looking for more volunteers. Therapy Tails holds evaluations four times a year with those who have expressed an interest.
Each potential volunteer is evaluated to ensure specific criteria is met, says Gmaz. For example, to be a therapy dog, it must have manners and be comfortable being around other dogs. “And most importantly, they must enjoy being petted. That is their job.”
Therapy Tails is a donation-based organization, with no paid staff. All donations received are invested in the organization’s programming.
For more information or to be placed on the volunteer list for future consideration, visit www.therapytails.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.