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North Shore non-profit aims to keep seniors and pets together at home

The group has a history of keeping seniors united with their best friends. Now they want to expand on the North Shore.
ElderDogs volunteer Lori Breen meets with Dick Cooper and his dog Lucky in West Vancouver, Sept. 1, 2023. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

Dick Cooper doesn’t know what he’d do without Lucky.

The 81-year-old retired lawyer from West Vancouver lost is wife to ALS four years ago. But Cooper and their nine-year-old rescue dog remain a team, thanks in part to a dedicated group of volunteers who help care for seniors by caring for their dogs.

ElderDog Canada’s North Shore “PAWD” has been taking dogs like Lucky for daily walks and helping with grooming and vet trips for the last year. And the group is now looking to grow its volunteer base and, eventually, the number of dogs and seniors they can assist.

“Without them, I could not do it. I cannot keep that pace. I am ever grateful to ElderDog,” Cooper said. “They don’t just walk him. They love him.”

The non-profit was founded in the mid-2000s by a Nova Scotia gerontology wellness researcher who was taking note of the of the health benefits that come from pets.

“They were seeing this research about how it appeared that having pets … helped the well-being of the senior,” said Cynthia Roman, volunteer co-ordinator for ElderDog Canada North and West Vancouver. “It’s affection. It’s emotion. It gives them a purpose in their day.”

But that relationship, and all the benefits it brings, can be threatened when a senior is experiencing health or mobility challenges that make it difficult for them to care for their beloved pup. Too often, they’re left with the difficult choice of whether to surrender their long-time companion.

'A dog like Lucky will alleviate the sadness and bring joy,' senior says

With its famously dog-loving but rapidly aging population, Roman said the need for a little extra leash help on the North Shore is great.

The dogs inevitably greet the volunteers with wagging tails and the clients get peace of mind while keeping their dearest friend by their side, Roman said.

“The seniors are all universally thrilled because they know what a difference it makes in their dog’s health and happiness. It is such a stress reliever,” she said.

The group can offer short-term fostering if a client requires a stay in hospital and they will help find a new forever home if the client passes away or goes into long-term care, Roman said.

More than “getting their dog fix,” the volunteers find it rewarding to know they are contributing to the wellness of a senior in their community, Roman said.

“They chat about their lives. They chat about their history. It’s so great for the seniors to have a friendly face show up at the door every day, because some seniors may not see anyone all day long if they’re rather isolated,” she said. “There’s a real friendship that gets developed.”

Cooper describes his relationship with Lucky as being “like siblings but with no rivalry.” He can attest to bond he’s formed with ElderDog’s volunteers and the quality of life they’ve helped him and Lucky retain.

“I just adore the individuals who do it and they all just love Lucky,” he said. “Lucky provides for me a transition from the loss of my wife by giving me the love I need to help get me through it. Anyone who's my age, there may be some sadness in your life. A dog like Lucky will alleviate the sadness and bring joy. Lucky just gives me joy in life that I miss.”

Applications to join ElderDog Canada are dealt with through the national non-profit’s website, or by calling 1-855-336-4226. The North Shore PAWD can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

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