Canada Winter Games athletes spend time with the pet therapy dogs Booker and Dylan at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

WATCH: Pet therapy brings calmness to Winter Games athletes

Canada Winter Games in Red Deer continue on until March 2nd

There is another kind of ‘team’ out and about at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

Pet therapy services are an important part of this year’s two-week event, officials say. The four-legged friends Booker and Dylan, provided by St. John Ambulance and the 2019 Canada Winter Games Host Society, help bring a sense of calmness to athletes who may be far away from home and experiencing competition jitters as well.

“Therapy dogs make visits throughout Canada at various locations, and when we have major games like this, our teams are invited to participate in relaxation and assisting in bringing a piece of home to participants that are here from across Canada,” said Sandi Misselbrook, manager of community services for St. John’s Ambulance in the province.

“What they do, is the (athletes) come and visit, they relax, they play, they have fun. For athletes being focused on what they are doing, it helps to release their stress and it’s also a cooperative event where a variety of people can come in and enjoy it.”

Athletes have been quick to offer high praise of the program. “Many say, ‘I feel so much more relaxed, this is so de-stressing, this reminds me of a dog I have at home, this is so soothing to play with the animals and just to hang out – and to calm down,” she added with a smile.

The dogs have been largely spending time at the Athletes’ Village at Red Deer College.

“It’s been fantastic – the Games are extraordinarily well-organized and have provided a great deal of support to St. John Ambulance. We are thrilled to be present and to be supporting the community, with these wonderful Games here in Central Alberta,” she said.

Scott Robinson, CEO of the Canada Winter Games, said having the dogs onsite is part of the Games’ overall strategy to optimize a sense of well-being in what can be a stressful time.

“There is a lot of pressure that can be on athletes at these Games. There are high expectations of course, and they are all trying to do their best,” he said. “We’re trying to take a holistic approach to help make sure the environment is safe for them and that they have access to, maybe in some cases, the comforts of home, whether that may include a dog or a pet. I think this program is just part of a broader strategy, and you are starting to see it at a lot more major events with athletes.”

With week one of the Games winding down, Robinson couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out so far.

“Fantastic – I think we’ve had a tremendous response from the community in terms of coming out to our events and seeing what a Canada Games is all about from all sides,” he said. “Red Deer and Central Alberta are communities that were going to respond very well to this. We were very confident, but I think it’s beyond our expectations to be honest. It’s been great.”

For complete details on all aspects of the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which run through to March 2nd, check out www.canadagames.ca/2019/

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