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Volunteer group going to the dogs

By Emily Innes, Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

Glenn Rylott, with his dog Kally, and Sue Hillerby, with her dog Sammy, are local volunteers with the Therapeutic Paws of Canada program. Emily Innes/ Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

Glenn Rylott, with his dog Kally, and Sue Hillerby, with her dog Sammy, are local volunteers with the Therapeutic Paws of Canada program. Emily Innes/ Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

The Collingwood area is in need of more four-legged friends.

Local Therapeutic Paws of Canada team leader Sue Hillerby and her poodle Sammy have been working with the local TPOC team since she retired to Collingwood in 2007. About five years ago, Hillerby took on the role of team leader and she has recognized a need for more volunteers.

“I'm really hoping to grow the team in general, because we have facilities that would like to have dogs and we don't have enough dogs to service them,” she said.

Hillerby said Sunset Manor requested a volunteer or two and Collingwood Nursing Home is looking to replace their last volunteer who recently moved out of the area.

Hillerby and Sammy go to the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital every Tuesday afternoon to visit patients.

“I would say the patients love him, the visitors to the patients, and the staff love him. It's often the case that staff will take time out of their busy day and pet the dog, and smile,” she said. “It provides a little relief for them as well, I'm sure.”

Sammy knows when he is going to work because he recognizes his TPOC vest and blue collar, used only on days when he visits the hospital, and responds enthusiastically.

“He just gets excited, he likes doing it,” said Hillerby.

A fond moment for Hillerby was last Christmas, when her whole family couldn't be together, she decided to do an extra visit with the hospital. She dressed Sammy up in a Santa Claus suit and she said patients were grateful for their presence.

“I was really moved at how much that meant to the people who had to be in the hospital on Christmas Day, particularly to the people who didn't have visitors,” she said.

She now plans to make a visit every Christmas.

Hillerby's group currently has two members in Wasaga Beach, two in Creemore, and four in Colllingwood. Across Canada there are 500 volunteers.

One volunteer in the area works at Creemore Junior Public School with the Paws to Read program. The program allows children to improve their literacy skills by reading to the dogs.

“Everyone who has been involved it – the teachers, the librarians, the parents – see the benefits. The children grow in confidence, reading to the dog is fun, and sometimes if you have been struggling with your reading you might not think it is fun,” said Hillerby, who, along with Sammy, has been involved in the program in the past.

Hillerby says she is hoping to expand this program in the area as well, possibly to local libraries.

“I love both the visiting that I do and I also love working with the other team members, they are such an enthusiastic group,” she said. “Good people, like Glenn, who are giving back to the community and I like supporting that.”

Glenn Rylott and his labrador Kally have been volunteering at the Wasaga Beach Senior residence once a week for almost a year.

“They just love her to death, when we walk in the door she is like a superstar,” he said.

Rylott said he enjoys getting to hear the stories of the residents, who tell him all about the dogs they used to have. One of the seniors, Alex, went out to buy bones for Kally and once he ran out he started saving his biscuits from tea time.

“In the morning when we go, I get her little red vest out of the closet and her tail starts thumping. She knows she's going and she really looks forward to it,” he said.

Therapeutic dogs undergo evaluations to ensure the dog can handle numerous environments and situations in a calm manner.

Mark Grant, the TPOC director of team leaders, said if someone is interested in becoming a volunteer the first step is to visit to review the evaluation process.

Grant said other volunteers are needed to help perform evaluations and the program also accepts cats.

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