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Taking a PAWSitive approach to staff wellness


VGH’s ICU staff Tanya Kraan, Karen Chew, Eleanor Sese and Nicole Namiranian take a PAWS to visit with Riley.

In 2018, a three-month long pilot called Pups Assisting Wellness for Staff (P.A.W.S.) was initiated. P.A.W.S. saw a young canine, Dr. Snuggles, visit VGH's Emergency Department (ED) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as an innovative approach in supporting staff who work in these areas that aligned with our value of caring for everyone. 

Throughout the pilot, staff satisfaction polls, staff experience surveys and qualitative observations were utilized to provide regular feedback, evaluate program success and identify other actionable opportunities for program improvement.

As a result of the pawsitive pilot results and in the spirit of continuous improvement, P.A.W.S. integrated staff feedback into a second Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle. Phase 2 tested an expanded wellness model that included: more dogs, different types of dogs and visits at different times of the day. To achieve this, P.A.W.S. partnered with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program and VGH Volunteer Services to bring four certified therapy dogs teams to VGH's ICU and ED, each for several hours per week for seven months (May – Nov 2019). The Burns, Trauma and High Acuity (BTHA) unit also joined in on the action. 

Tammy Wu and Amy Foley share snuggles with Bruno.
Follow Bruno on Instagram: @grumpyface_bruno

PAWSitive response

Initial staff feedback was collected through surveys and demonstrated continued satisfaction and experience with the program. Within the first two months, the therapy dog teams had over 1,560 interactions with staff, patients and family members and had volunteered over 45 hours to improving staff wellness. Overall, 86% of staff surveyed “agreed" or “strongly agreed" that the program increased staff morale. In addition, 91% of staff surveyed “agreed" or “strongly agreed" that the P.A.W.S. program positively impacted staff stress levels.

Right image: Impressive results from the first two months of Phase 2.

Click here for a larger image:P.A.W.S. Infographic Poster (July 2019).pdf

Qualitative data demonstrated that even a brief interaction with the therapy dogs made them feel better. Additionally, the qualitative data further demonstrated that interactions with the canine were considered by several staff members as a highlight of their work day. It has been heartwarming to see how the therapy dogs can brighten the day of both staff and patients at VGH.

“The PAWS program has been a huge success in BTHA as evidenced by the overwhelming positive feedback from the staff. Those that choose to participate all enjoy and have an experience unique to themselves. The visits facilitate all staff a brief escape from an otherwise hectic and demanding day delivered with unconditional affection." 

- Suzie Allen Logie, Patient Services Manager, BTHA

Check out the P.A.W.S. comment cards for more staff comments and stories.


Who doesn't love puppy photos?

To view photos, explore the Flickr site OR scan the code below using your phone camera:


What's Next?

As we continue to test and evaluate the impact of this initiative, we will be looking to learn from staff and handler experiences through questionnaires, semi-structured interviews plus additional feedback channels. The team will use the results to explore possible options for improvement and expansion of P.A.W.S. following Phase 2.


BTHA's Anne Midttun and her colleagues receive love from Gordon.

Fun Fact 

Each therapy dog has their own playing card!


SOURCE: Taking a PAWSitive approach to staff wellness ( )
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