Today we are inspired again by the human-animal bond and the ability of dogs like Bridgette the Bulldog to help people of all ages. We chatted with her partner Denis, a self-proclaimed “lifetime volunteer” for numerous causes, about his therapy visits with Bridgette and how they are making a difference.
Getting Involved With The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program
“Bridgette or “Miss B” at birth was very quiet and continued on being that way after her puppy stage. You knew she just loved to meet people and pets alike. She was the social butterfly of our street. If you were out putting out your garbage or taking a walk, Bridgette always wanted to say hello.”
Denis’ wife is a pet care professional, so she wanted Bridgette to be socialized with people and pets as much as possible from an early age. It didn’t hurt that they had their own little zoo at home with 2 cats, 1 guinea pig, 3 turtles, and 1 tortoise. Bridgette also successfully completed grade 3 in PetSmart schooling (3×6 week sessions). Just look at her cute squishy face and you know she is made to make people smile.
After 35 plus years of volunteering for numerous charities and causes, Denis was looking at a possible early retirement. He was ready to undertake a new volunteer role to fill his extra free time. That’s when a coworker mentioned getting involved with his young bulldog in the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. Volunteering for a world renowned and respected charity like St.John Ambulance that is rich in history and results was a perfect fit for Denis and his special dog.
Denis had Bridgette evaluated for therapy work at the first opportunity when she was around two. After completing the evaluation and mentoring sessions, followed by a police check for Denis (the “handler”), Bridgette passed with flying colors. The pair became a St. John Ambulance therapy dog and handler team. Bridgette is one of 86 in the Niagara Region branch whose owners volunteer their time to visit hospitals, schools, seniors residences and community centres.
“Having one of my best friends Bridgette visiting seniors and kids of all ages with me was a win-win situation for all.”
If you are contemplating trying to become a St. John Ambulance dog team you must first of all have a really stable, loving, outgoing, but controllable dog that can pass the requirements of the evaluation.
The therapy dog and handler team must follow the rules set out by St. John Ambulance and of the place they are visiting. The handler must be able and willing to try to agree to regular visits and to keep in touch if plans change for any reason.
Sessions With Bridgette the Therapy Bulldog
Golden Retrievers and Labradors are the most common larger therapy dog breeds in the St. John Ambulance program. The small dogs are of many varieties, but Bridgette is an exception. She is the only therapy bulldog in Denis’ branch and possibly in the program.
This helps set Bridgette apart from others. She is always a big hit in parades and wherever they go the bulldog breed is not very common but they are born entertainers. People see them on TV or in magazine advertisements but not in real life, too often making her an instant celebrity while on therapy visits.
Bridgette gets to spend a lot of time with Denis while on therapy visits where she makes people smile, laugh, play, reminisce about their past and the pets that they had. She brings cheer to the lonely or depressed and even lowers blood pressure in certain individuals.
“The dogs are non-judgmental and offer unconditional love and it makes people happy even if short lived.”
Bridgette and Denis visit a senior home in Grimsby, Ontario named ‘Maple Crest’. The seniors just love Bridgette to pieces as displayed by the staff, patients, and management. Their 1.5 to 2-hour visiting session at the retirement home starts with visiting everyone in the front foyer, heading to the basement floor to meet people on their coffee break and then joining a group at their bowling session. Bridgette and Denis mingle and join in on their exercises and fun. The type of therapy dog visit will vary from place to place and from individual to individual.
Things that could possibly affect your type of visit could be the layout of the building, comfortable area for therapy dog team and visitors, the mental or physical condition of people being visited. Some places might have therapy dogs go room to room, while others will have everyone congregate to a larger open area for the visiting.
A Special Therapy Dog Visit
Denis shared a unique story about one of his therapy visits at a university puppy room. “While on the visit, a staff member came by to see the therapy dog teams at work. Our dogs are taught to not jump up on people. This staff person came up to 2 of our dogs and instead of our dogs staying on the floor, both dogs had a paw resting against the chest of the person. Everyone couldn’t believe why the dogs reacted this way. A week or so later that same staff member had a heart attack, the dogs must have known something was wrong with their health.
This person is well now and has come to our puppy room two years in a row to see those same 2 therapy dogs for a free checkup and now both dogs are seated on the floor like they should be. This person told us that they felt so relieved that the dogs now acknowledged a clean bill of health.”
Bridgette The Star Therapy Bulldog
Bridgette and a few of her buddies Mecho and Magee were so happy to have been part of the 2015 Warm Wishes 5-week campaign in a YouTube video for Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons had people write down wishes to spread holiday cheer, and a handful of wishes were picked and granted that day by Tim Horton’s staff. To date, there have been over 1,110,000 hits on this video.
In 2014 Bridgette was chosen to be one of 12 St. John Ambulance therapy dogs for a big event in Toronto at the start of a 4-day conference with dignitaries from 42 countries around the globe including Desmond TuTu an Arch Bishop from Africa and Lieutenant Governor General Johnston from Canada . The 12 dogs were chosen to represent the 2,700 different dogs that are part of the therapy dog program in Canada. This was an opportunity to show them the St. John Ambulance therapy dogs project. They just loved what the program does for the seniors and kids that benefit from this wonderful pet therapy.
The kids’ reading programs (like Reading Rocks and Paws for Stories) give the kids confidence and self-esteem to help them read better. The university or college or high school puppy room is there to help students de-stress before exams and overcome loneliness from being away from home and loved ones like family, boyfriends or girlfriends, and even your favorite pet.
Adopting A Bulldog
After reading this you may be thinking of adopting your own star bulldog like Bridgette. But there is a lot to know about the breed, so Denis shared his tips and wisdom about the breed. You should always do your homework or research. See our Breed Library and Read: Is A Bulldog The Right Breed For You.
Bulldogs are very loyal, loving family pets, sometimes referred to as couch potatoes who will become one of your best friends. As for anyone considering a bulldog for a pet I would say there are a few things you must consider:
- Financial Cost. They are purebred and born through C-section and impregnated by artificial insemination. These two procedures are expenses that make up part of the price of $2500- $3500 when obtaining a bulldog from a reputable breeder who puts the care and love of bulldogs first. And having a pet insurance policy on your bulldog is a good idea just in case.
- Adopt Don’t Shop! The puppy mill type of breeder mass produces the breeding of bulldogs and may offer the dogs at $1000 – $1500, usually under poor conditions for maximum profit, not worrying about the health problems down the road.
- Health Issues. Bulldogs can have health problems such as bad breathing. Watching them closely so they don’t over exert themselves in any physical exercise is key as they can overheat easily- not the ideal breed for visiting very warm locations like nursing homes. They can also have back or leg problems because of their heavy compact build. Not usually the dog for you if you want a running partner for training for marathons. Walks should be kept short and not when too hot out. An ideal weight would be around 50 pounds.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
What a wonderful honor to be picked to represent therapy dogs! I bet the dignitaries loved them!
Feline Opines says
Wonderful heartwarming article!
She is just SO DARN CUTE! The story about the heart attack is amazing. I would love a visit from Miss B!
Talent Hounds says
She is absolutely adorable in person. I totally see why she is such a successful therapy dog. I just wanted to hug her.
Dash Kitten Crew says
I met a bulldog once at a pet expo – he was HUGE. There is no way I could have picked him up. I picked up his pup though and got a good licking! They look fierce but are gentle and loving dogs!
Talent Hounds says
Yes, they are pretty solid but very lovable. I don’t think I could lift Bridgette but definitely enjoyed a cudddle.
Carol Bryant says
I am so glad you are spreading the word about dogs who rock. I used to do pet therapy with my first Cocker Spaniel. Miss B stole my heart here!
Beth Patterson says
It always makes me happy to see therapy dogs, but like you mentioned, there aren’t a lot of English Bulldog therapy dogs. I am sure she brings a lot of joy with her, wherever she goes!
Sweet Purrfections says
I had no idea that bulldogs had to be artificially impregnated.
Brigette is such a wonderful pup! I love that they have this therapy dog program. I think that more medical care facilities need to have pet therapy programs. Sometimes when you’ve been through something traumatizing (or are currently going through something traumatizing) it is easier to be open and vulnerable with an animal. Pets can bring so much healing to people.
Jenna Hughson says
Aw wow so cool!!