Clinic barking up the right tree

It was puppy love versus the H1N1 flu for nine-month-old Ellica Martin. Puppy love won.

Angela Martin with her daughter Ellica

WINNIPEG — It was puppy love versus the H1N1 flu for nine-month-old Ellica Martin.

Puppy love won.

Ellica may have cried on Wednesday when the needle for H1N1 was poked into her leg, but her tears soon turned to fascination when she came face to face with a dog’s furry face.

Ellica was just the latest child to meet and be comforted by Lucky, a four-year-old Australian shepherd-border collie cross.

Lucky, with her owner Lucy Johnston, was volunteering with St. John Ambulance at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s mass immunization clinic at the Indo-Canadian Arts and Cultural Centre.

Ellica’s mom, Angela, said the presence of Lucky — who sat in the chair beside the baby while she got the shot — meant fewer tears were shed than after her first H1N1 shot a few weeks ago.

“The dog helped her,” she said a few minutes after her daughter was reaching out and touching the dog’s black, white and brown fur.

“We have two dogs at home so it is something familiar for her. And it’s definitely good for the older kids — and good for the parents bringing them in. It makes for a little bit less stress.”

Johnston said she’s seen the canine’s positive effect on children who have been immunized in the seven weeks of the mass immunization campaign.

“She’s a distraction for them,” she said. “They can pat her. They can look at her when they get the needle. It helps them.”

Andrea Herbert-Lugsdin, a nurse at the clinic, said she also sees the dog helping kids cope with their nervousness getting the needle.

“It’s nice the kids associate something nice with having a needle,” Herbert-Lugsdin said.

Nearby, six-year-old Alyssa McCaughan also fresh from having her needle, said the dog stayed with her while she got the shot.

“It was nice to see a dog here,” she said. “I was ready to get the shot anyway.”

Christine Kaskiw, St. John’s director of community services, said they have 200 dogs and volunteers throughout Manitoba, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

“The dogs and the volunteers donate their time,” Kaskiw said. “We’re very honoured to give back to the community at this time.”

Meanwhile, WRHA spokeswoman Heidi Graham said the need for people to be immunized for H1N1 remains strong, even as it winds down the mass immunization clinics.

Graham said people will be able to get immunized at smaller community clinics that are planned.

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