Therapy dog Vezna is putting smiles on faces, one resident at a time

Forest Hill resident Shirley Grant pets Vezna, a schnauzer mix, who visits residents with her owner, Sharon MacDonald. Sharon and Vezna volunteer at Forest Hill through Ottawa Therapy Dogs.

For three years, Vezna and her owner, Sharon MacDonald, who are with Ottawa Therapy Dogs, have been volunteering at Forest Hill

For three years, a miniature schnauzer mix named Vezna has been volunteering at Forest Hill with her owner, Sharon MacDonald. Sharon and Vezna, who are with Ottawa Therapy Dogs, leave residents smiling after each visit.

Sharon and Vezna visit at least two floors every time they’re at Forest Hill. Vezna also spends time with residents during exercise programs, where she will go from resident to resident, stopping for short visits.

Vezna doesn’t have to do much to get residents’ attention. Sometimes residents simply want to pet her, scratch her or get her to shake a paw.

“She is the perfect little therapy dog,” Sharon says of eight-year-old Vezna.

Sharon and Vezna also spend time with residents affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which Craig Forrest, the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home’s life enrichment co-ordinator, says has a “positive outcome.”

“Some residents with dementia can become agitated, but after a visit (with Vezna), you can see what a calming effect she has on them,” he says.

“She is one of the most laid-back dogs I have ever met. She is so calm and she’s just fantastic with the residents.”

Sharon says her favourite aspect of being a Forest Hill volunteer is that it’s an opportunity to give back to the community. Her visits with Vezna also make a difference to people, evidenced by the smiles and laughter Vezna will draw from residents during her visits.

And of course, Vezna brings back memories for many residents.

“A lot of them are used to having pets and can’t now, so the visits, no matter how brief, bring back a piece of happiness they had for so long,” Sharon says.

Sharon recalls one telling moment when Forest Hill’s physician was visiting residents with an intern. They were in one resident’s room while Sharon and Vezna were visiting.

“The doctor turned to the intern and said, ‘You see that? That dog will do more for these residents here today than any medication I could prescribe,’ ” she says.

April 7-13 is National Volunteer Week 2019. The week is marked by events nationwide that celebrate volunteers and all they do to enrich the lives of others. This year marks the 78th National Volunteer Week.

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