Skookum knows what residents and visitors to Red Deer Hospice need — a furry, friendly face.
The 11-year-old bichon-shih tzu visits the hospice at least once a week with his owner Sandee Birse.
Skookum became a therapy dog by chance after visiting a local nursing home.
“We took him in there and it was just amazing. He was a playful dog, but as soon as we went into the nursing home he just calmed right down,” said Birse, of Red Deer.
“He’d find somebody and just go sit at their feet and wait for them to reach down and pet him. He just seemed like a natural.”
Skookum has been making people smile at the hospice for about five years. The hospice is a home for the terminally ill, providing a home away from home environment.
Some hospice residents have enjoyed the dog’s company so much that they invite him to curl up on their bed.
If he’s not attending to patients, visitors or staff, he relaxes under the dining room table near the front door to welcome people entering the building at 99 Arnot Ave.
“From what I can see, it’s become another little home for him,” said Birse, who is also a hospice volunteer.
She said her gentle dog seems to be able to pick out “dog people.”
“He kind of seems to have that sense about where he fits and where he doesn’t fit. He’s very, very suited.”
St. John Ambulance in Red Deer runs a one-day dog therapy program to evaluate canines that may have the right temperament and skills.
Jill Rhyason, St. John community services co-ordinator, said about 20 dogs were evaluated last year.
“I think more people are getting the idea of how much of a benefit it is to the community and to the people,” Rhyason said.
Dogs of all sizes visit people in hospital and other local facilities, she said.
“Red Deer has a pretty good mix. We have Great Peyrenees right down to chihuahau.”
Birse said Skookum wasn’t evaluated but has the natural ability to know when someone needs some extra attention.
“He’s just as happy to sit beside somebody and just be there with them even if they don’t have the energy to scratch his ears or talk to him. It’s just like he knows.”