The PAWS INSIDE Program returned to Fraser Valley correctional facilities to visit staff recently. (Submitted)

SJA Abbotsford therapy dogs return to work with correctional staff

After break due to COVID-19, dogs and staff re-connect at Fraser Valley facilities

After a pause due to COVID-19, the St. John Ambulance Abbotsford therapy dog team recently returned to visit staff at several different correctional facilities in the Fraser Valley.

The PAWS inside program originally began at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women five years ago and started off by providing services to inmates.

Last year, the Abbotsford therapy dog team coordinator was approached by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in the Pacific Region about providing support to local staff.

RELATED: Ex-cop now preaches importance of rehabilitation at Abbotsford prison

According to all involved, both the staff and the dogs were missing each other during the COVID break, but thanks to some creative thinking from the leadership volunteer team in Abbotsford and the CSC staff, a solution was reached to conduct a number of distanced staff wellness visits to Fraser Valley, Matsqui, Mission, and Kent Institutions.

“The feedback was unanimously positive. The therapy dog visits provide staff with an opportunity to de-stress and connect safely with others, even if just for a short time, and the dogs were so excited to be back at ‘work’,” stated Nancy Wrenshall, St. John Ambulance PAWS INSIDE program coordinator. “We heard comments from staff saying how nice it was to have this contact during such an isolating time, that it made them feel appreciated for their work, and that it even helped them relax.”

Some of the different disciplines that work in federal institutions include: nurses, correctional officers, social workers, psychologists, program officers, parole officers, and administrative staff, among others. These staff can face emotionally challenging scenarios daily when managing offenders and their cases.

RELATED: VIDEO: Tour offers inside look at Fraser Valley Institution for Women

“Every single one of our employees has a role to play, and their work can be uniquely challenging. Many staff can be emotionally affected by the nature of their work, so the opportunity for them to get outside and gain a moment of calm and comfort with a ‘puppy break’ is extremely beneficial, especially during this time,” stated Tara Mayne, regional manager for the employee assistance program (EAP) and critical incident stress management program (CISM), for CSC Pacific Region.

During these visits, masks were worn by both the SJA therapy dog handlers and all correctional staff. Measures were taken to ensure physical distancing such as the use of six-foot long leashes.

Both the CSC and the Abbotsford SJA therapy dog team are looking forward to future visits to further support staff well-being. Learn more and support the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program at supportsja.ca/therapydogs, and request their services by emailing bcy.volunteer@sja.ca.

RELATED: VIDEO: Children read to therapy dogs at Langley library

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