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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 9, 2020
ElderDog Canada designated an essential service support organization during COVID
It was a day for the dogs in Feltzen South, Lunenburg County, on Aug. 15 when ElderDog Canada hosted its eighth annual butterfly release.
“This day, this butterfly release, really is a celebration of the companions that mean so much to us and who have left us,” said Ardra Cole founder of ElderDog Canada in her welcoming remarks. “It’s also a celebration of the heart of ElderDog, and the heart of ElderDog is our volunteers without whom none of what we do could happen.”
Dogs of all sizes and ages were part of the crowd that gathered at ElderDog Land; a 45-acre piece of property Cole has granted the use of to the federally incorporated non-profit registered charity where memorial gardens and walking trails with names like Retriever Run, Miniature Meander, Terrier Trail, Pointer Path, and Water Dog Way offer space for people to walk with their canine or human companions on or off-leash through fields, forest, and shoreline.
A small chapel called a Place to Paws was opened two years ago near the water’s edge that is dedicated to the memory of dogs who have left us, said Cole.
A new commemorative garden to honour and remember members of the ElderDog community is being created just beyond Place to Paws this year. The first planting is scheduled to take place in the fall commemorating “two of our very cherished volunteers who passed away this year, Jerry Craig and Harold Pearse,” Cole told the crowd.
A native of Halifax, Cole founded ElderDog Canada in 2009, with the first ‘Pawd’ (chapter) opening in 2012. Since then the organization had grown to 26 Pawds across the country with more than 1,700 members and volunteers. Close to 600 elder dogs have been rehomed and more than 400 seniors have been supported with dog care through ElderDog since it was started. There are no fees for ElderDog services. The national headquarters is in Feltzen South.
In an interview, Cole said it’s “pretty remarkable really” how the organization has grown in 10 years. “The issue now is we want to grow sustainably. We don’t want to grow too fast. That’s not good either but ultimately and over the longer term the goal is to be in communities across the country so we can support seniors with their dogs and support older dogs as much as possible.”
ElderDog Canada has an application process of all programs offered, said Cole, and has adapted to comply with COVID-19 safety practices. For example, in the situation where an older person needs a little bit of extra help with a dog, a home support co-ordinator would contact them by phone to complete the registration process, find out the person's needs, arrange to meet the dog outside, and then take the dog for a walk “to get a sense of how the dog is so we can we match a dog with volunteers. We do up a schedule and that person becomes part of our home support program for as long as they need our assistance,” said Cole.
Adoptions, temporary fostering, and a long-term care registration program are among the other services ElderDog provides. Cole said there is a long waiting list of people who want to adopt an older dog. “We try as much as possible to match our dogs with seniors who want a dog but not a puppy and it's really all about the match,” said Cole.
Cole said one of the things that is important for people to know is ElderDog Canada “continues with all of our services through COVID. We are designated as an essential service support organization so are able to carry on. There are people we support who are dependant on us. They don’t have other support systems in their lives … not family not friends. They really depend on us so much for support through the pandemic.”
While COVID has had a negative impact on donations to ElderDog and on the organization's ability to fundraise this year, attendance at the butterfly release was about on par with other years, said Cole, with 120 butterflies released in the memorial gardens and the grounds.
Since the last butterfly release in 2019, ElderDog Canada has lost 74 elderly dogs the organization had helped either by rehoming or supported through services.
“That’s the sad and hard part of what we do,” said Cole. “When you’re dealing with older dogs, they not with us for very long.”
ElderDog Canada also includes in its mandate education about the human-animal bond in general and the significant role of companion animals in the health and well-being of seniors, and to support and conduct research into the human-animal bond with a focus on seniors and canine companionship.
For more information about ElderDog Canada visit their website.