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Does Ember the therapy dog make a difference at Cambridge Memorial?

The National Service Dog and its effect on staff to be studied by University of Guelph scientists

During a hard day at work, imagine a friendly four-legged companion by your side to make the day a bit better.

It’s been nearly two years since dog, Ember, started working at Cambridge Memorial Hospital. 

University of Guelph professor, Basem Gohar’s research focus is on how to improve well-being in the workplace. What better way to do it than with a Labrador retriever.

Prior to the pandemic and even more so since the pandemic, employer retention in health care is a challenge, said Gohar.

Finding opportunities to improve the workplace culture can help and he hopes Ember can deliver on this front. Since Ember has been with the hospital for nearly two years, researchers can measure her impact more accurately.

She isn’t a therapy dog but is a certified National Service Dog with training to deal with people under distress.

“Ember is not meant to support patients. She's there full time to support the employees. So they strategically place her in a situation where she's needed most,” said Gohar.

It’s almost like she’s part of the hospital team by doing rounds and visiting staff.

Ember was brought into the hospital because staff suggested it. “This is an outstanding example of an employer who listens to their staff,” said Gohar. 

Anecdotally, the feedback Gohar has been getting is positive. “Everyone loves her.”

Evaluations and data analysis plan to start next month. Ember’s handlers log the interactions she has with hospital staff and the log will help inform research. Gohar is excited for the research to start.

The research is being funded through a grant from the federal government’s social sciences and humanities research council. Gohar is working with veterinarians Jason Coe and Katie Clow, who research the human-animal bond.

Aside from people who enjoy interacting with Ember during their shift, Gohar thinks it's important to learn about those who don’t enjoy being around dogs. He wants to know if there are any barriers or what other strategies could be used to improve employee wellness.

He doesn’t know if a dog like Ember can be effective everywhere. Since Canada is such a diverse place there may be instances where having a service dog is not encouraged.

In certain cultures and religions dogs are considered unsanitary. People may also have allergies or phobias around dogs too.

As for Guelph General Hospital having a dog in the future Gohar said he’d love to talk to the hospital about it, but it’s ultimately their call.

Service dogs used to support staff in hospitals seem to be growing. Gohar mentioned Hamilton Health Sciences also has a dog. The Newfoundland dog is named Hank.

“So it looks like it's already spreading without us getting much data,” said Gohar. “I'm a firm believer that this could be very helpful.”

He said it's too early to tell the magnitude of support for Ember and her impact. There are still underlying factors that need to be resolved in workplaces like staff retention, support and proper resources. Although a service dog is part of the support, it can’t replace other things health care centres need for staff well-being.

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Santana Bellantoni

About the Author: Santana Bellantoni

Santana Bellantoni was born and raised in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. As a general assignment reporter for Guelph Today she is looking to discover the communities, citizens and quirks that make Guelph a vibrant city.
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