Skip to content

'Very rewarding': Therapy dog graduation is a tail for the ages

'The residents’ faces just light up when they see him,' said owner of Fitz, who is always a big hit at the retirement home

Few things are more heartwarming than a fluffy dog and the smiles of a ceremony.

At the Chartwell Tiffin Retirement Residence on Tuesday, a graduation event was held for a seven-year-old Alaskan Malamute named Fitz who was with his owner and handler Gerret Kavanagh.

The pair had passed their number of probationary visits in the 10-week St. John Ambulance therapy dog program, and were celebrated in the presence of appreciative residents at Chartwell Tiffin.

“Fitz is just an amazingly friendly dog; whenever I bring him anywhere, people just naturally gravitate to him,” Kavanagh said. “The residents’ faces just light up when they see him.”

That was obvious as the pair stood in a room decorated with graduation items, with Kavanagh giving short speeches and answering questions.

Fitz, on the other paw, after being gifted his scarf by Simcoe-Muskoka Branch program coordinator Lynn Kitchen, wandered around the room receiving affection from numerous hands wanting to scruff the fluff.

“We have 50 teams in this area,” explained Kitchen. “We go up to Parry Sound, down to Innisfil, over to Collingwood, and Orillia; we have a big area.”

Further to the ceremony was the introduction of orange juice and cake for residents, which Fitz took exceptional interest in. 

“He loves being petted, he loves being hugged, but he’s not allowed to eat anything here, so no treats," Kavanagh explained.

The graduation means big things are on the horizon for the duo.

“After a year at this facility, we’re able to go into the hospital,” Kavanagh noted. “I’m looking forward to bringing him into the hospital wards too to visit people.” 

What introduced Kavanagh and Fitz to the program was a chance meeting last August with Shannon Fountain, lifestyle and program manager for Chartwell Tiffin Retirement Residents. Upon exiting a local dog-friendly retail outlet Fountain approached Fitz to give affection, engaging in light conversation with Kavanagh. 

“(Kavanagh) said he was new to the area,” Fountain explained to the gathered residents, “and he was hoping to get involved with one of the therapy dog companies.”

Fountain shared that her introduction to him of working in a retirement home was all the connection needed for that process to get initiated.

Fitz remained attentive and friendly throughout the event, but eventually he was too doggone pooped to continue and laid down on the rug to the heartwarming coos of the attendees.

Kitchen said that those wanting to volunteer for the therapy dog program could visit the St. John Ambulance website where information, frequently asked questions, and applications would be available.

“I know it’s a very rewarding program and people really appreciate it. With the retirement homes, the residents may not remember your name, but they sure remember the dog’s name,” Kitchen added with a laugh.


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
Read more