I have to admit I was feeling a bit lost that July morning when I left the Marie Enfant Rehabilitation Centre (CRME). As a big-time animal lover, I had leapt on the opportunity to attend one of the weekly animal therapy sessions they hold there during the summer for kids in a rehabilitation program. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what was involved. I thought maybe I’d walk into a room with kids shouting and laughing as they rolled their wheelchairs around to pet the dogs.
I figured I’d see ear-and-ear smiles and reactions of all kinds. But I was surprised, even moved, by the silence that greeted me instead.
That’s because the children who are full-time residents at the CRME rehab centre don’t communicate the same way we do. For some, their disabilities mean the only way they can get their ideas across is through non-verbal sounds. For others, it’s a matter of using an electronic tablet. In both cases, these kids need help 24 hours a day.
They are surrounded by an incredibly compassionate team who are devoted to making sure the environment they live in is everything you hope it would be. The team finds lots of ways to humanize the care they receive through initiatives like these animal therapy sessions – all of which are made possible by donors.
For these young people, 5200 Bélanger is their home. Moments like these ones, interacting with animals, are a chance to escape to another world. A world of peace and quiet. A world where they can forget the stress of the hospital environment, if only for a short amount of time. A world where they can be kids again. You can’t always tell by the looks on their faces what they’re feeling, but you sure appreciate it when you’re there
For our full-time residents, animal therapy sessions are an amazing opportunity to interact in a less clinical way than what they normally experience with their caregivers.
For other CRME patients who are receiving rehabilitation services on a shorter-term basis, animal therapy can also be integral to improving fine motor skills or achieving other rehabilitation goals, such as throwing a ball or holding a leash.
The power of experiences like the one I saw during the animal therapy session is palpable. Just being there with the dogs is a form of therapy. The overall benefits are harder to see after only a single session. It’s a longer-term proposition, which comes with plenty of highs and lows. But the joy it brings during that one hour is impossible to ignore.
So if I was a little shaken by how quiet the room was when I first got there, the one thing I got, loud and clear, was the light in those kids’ eyes when they came in contact with the dogs and felt that “puppy love” all around them.
Their reactions were worth all the gold in the world. The warmth and humanity it brought into their lives was magic. And you made it happen!