Red Cross dogs spread joy

Red Cross dogs spread joy

In a lounge at the Sunnanberg elderly care centre in Saltvik, Åland, residents are waiting for the evening’s visit. Four four-legged friends enter the room. Chico, Frida, Aqua and Kate all work as volunteer service dogs and their visit is always appreciated.

“For ten years, the Red Cross has had an active programme of service dogs,” says Gudrun Brändström, who coordinates the programme with her dog Kate.

The friendly dogs and their owners visit retirement homes in Åland on a regular basis. Other planned meetings may also take place at day care centres or schools.

“Not everyone can participate all the time. So it’s good that we have a large network of volunteers,” says Gudrun Brändström.

Katarina Bergman with Chico, Carina Svenblad-Timonen with Aqua, Erica Nordberg with Frida and Gudrun Brändström with Kate.

Security – a basic prerequisite

So far, around 50 dogs and their owners have been active as service dogs in the Red Cross. Older dogs have retired and new puppies have been trained. Gudrun Brändström tests all the dogs before they go into service with a red coloured Red Cross scarf around their neck.

“The dog needs to be safe, friendly and socially trained. When I test the dogs, they must not jump up and down at loud noises or at a client’s rapid movements,” says Gudrun Brändström.

Because anything can happen when the service dogs visit the elderly. The dogs can get wet kisses, too hard pats, or, as in the case of Chico on this day in Saltvik, have their paws run over by a walker.

“But he doesn’t care about anything. He’s just happy and kind, even though you would hug him to death,” says his dog owner Katarina Bergman.

Bringing old memories to life

Pets can have a positive impact on people with dementia. Before entering the dementia ward, you are warned that Kevin the cat lives there. The friendly dogs stroll by undisturbed while the cat hisses and is ready to defend itself. In one ward, some elderly people start talking about their own dogs while others just want to observe from a distance. Erica Nordberg is handing out dog treats to the elderly and her Boston terrier Frida is quickly there to enjoy the goodies. Her friend Aqua also gets some treats, which the Boston terrier finds difficult to accept.

“Dogs are dogs and they don’t have to love each other, the main thing is that they love people,” says Erica Nordberg.

After an hour, the day’s shift is over. A small service that the volunteers say makes a big difference.

“It warms the heart when you see the love and joy in the elderly,” says Carina Svenblad-Timonen.

02 August 2023

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