It's a grey and gloomy february morning. Viljo-Valdemar finds himself in the back of a van. The destination is the hospital ward at the City of Kaarina Medical Centre. What's it going to be like? Viljo doesn't mind. He's used to being carted around different hospitals and care centres.
In the hospital yard, Viljo does his business against a tree, getting ready to start his day. Viljo's handler/employer/owner Maarit Haapasaari wipes the muddy rain water off Viljo's big, hairy paws. She needs to be quick with the towel, because Viljo can't wait to get to the day room on ward number 2. His visit is eagerly anticipated. Both patients and staff welcome Viljo with a big smile. Mission number one- bring joy and happiness to a sombre place- completed!
Viljo is a therapy dog, the most important member of an animal assisted therapy team. He works for Maarit's company, Hali-Koira (finnish for Hug-Dog, pretty much). Therapy dogs and their handlers visit care homes, hospitals and day centres, working with the elderly, children and both adults and kids with special needs. Viljo and his Hali-Koira dog colleagues assist in physiotherapy sessions, as reading dogs in schools and as an inspiration to get up and excercise at different care centres. Hali-Koira also makes house calls.
Today's visit is about singing songs, reading stories and talking and reminiscing. First of all, Viljo greets each and every participant personally. Despite his large size, Viljo knows how to approach people gently and politely, to avoid scaring anyone or knocking anyone over. He is a professional, after all. Almost everybody in the room is brave enough to let Viljo climb onto their laps for a big doggy hug. One of the patients doesn't react to the people around her at all, but Viljo sure does get a reaction and a little pat on the head from her.
The songs and stories Maarit has chosen are animal-themed, naturally. For many, the stories she reads brings back memories of pets and critters from decades ago. Stories and memories, both sad and funny, are shared with the group.
There is a large variety of animal assisted therapy forms today, and the field is constantly growing. Maarit Haapasaari has been part of the evolution of dog assisted volunteer work in Finland for more than a decade. The demand for more challenging, standardized and goal-oriented services grew rapidly, so she quit her day job and started the Hali-Koira company in 2011. Dog assisted therapy has been proven efficient both in conjunction with treatment of existing conditions, and as a part of preventive therapies. The work Maarit and her dogs have done with children with reading and learning difficulties is a good example of the latter. The dog quickly won over their trust, and the children gained confidence and encouragement from reading to the dog. Their attitude towards reading for fun or out loud improved.
Viljo is reclining on the floor during the sing-along. The patients who are too tired to sing along or pay attention, are still entertained by his antics. The presence of the large but dosile dog brings a curious calm to the room. It's a positive, relaxing calm which seems to inspire everybody. The hour flies by and the patients and staff slowly return to their daily duties. Viljo's job here is done. When he leaves, a positive vibe lingers.
As you know, Lyyti loves dogs. Lyyti also loves people, especially people who need some special TLC. That's why we donated this Hali-Koira session to the City of Kaarina Medical Centre. Staying positive is one of our major values, both within the company and in life. Dog assisted therapies are an excellent way of spreading that positivity to those who need it most. Many people who are in long-term care don't have much to their name, and get left aside when it comes to different recreational activities. This is why sponsored external providers, such as Hali-Koira, are irreplaceable injections of joy and fun that every single person gets to enjoy. Let's spread the love. Pay it forward!