When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)

White Rock woman among dozens in Lower Mainland to benefit from Elder Dog program

Dog-care organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but requires more clients to serve

It’s rare that a charitable organization’s volunteers outnumber the people it supports, but when it comes to dogs, many, it seems, are eager to offer a helping paw.

White Rock’s Liz Cowley contacted Peace Arch News this week to bring awareness to a charity that takes four-legged friends out for a walk if circumstances prevent their owners from doing so.

In Cowley’s case, she had knee surgery and was unable to take her two-year-old rescue dog, Kevin, out for some fresh air. She enlisted the help of Elder Dog Canada.

Four times a week, Cowley said, a volunteer from Elder Dog Canada would swing by her place, pick up Kevin, and take him for a walk.

It was such a benefit, Cowley said, that she volunteered her services in an outreach capacity to give back to the organization that helped her in a time of need.

“It was wonderful,” Cowley said. “I would have been stuck… How would I have walked my dog? I live on my own and he wouldn’t have had any walks while I was (recuperating) and it’s a free service.”

Cowley put PAN in touch with Elder Dog’s Christina Saremba.

Saremba said the organization has about 300 volunteers at its disposal in the Lower Mainland, but only about 40 clients who use the service.

The organization is searching for more clients who can not only make use of its walking services, but some of its other dog-care supports.

“The other is transportation,” Saremba said. “Sometimes seniors don’t have a way to get their dog either to the groomer or the vet. So we help with that as well.”

Volunteers also offer minor grooming services. For example, Saremba said, they have a client who can walk his dogs, but his knees don’t allow him to brush his golden Labrador.

“He needs to be brushed quite frequently. So we have some volunteers go by a couple times a week and brush. We’re talking minor grooming,” Saremba said.

RELATED: ‘Man’s Best Friend:’ Documentary highlights non-profit that helps seniors with dog care

Saremba said the organization will also pick up dog food or supplies and offer some fostering services.

“Either the (senior) knows ahead of time they’re going to go to the hospital for, perhaps, surgery. So they would like to arrange for one of our fosters to look after their dog or dogs,” she said.

Some seniors, Saremba said, refuse to go to the hospital unless they can find a caregiver for their dog.

“More often than not we get calls from hospital social workers or family members that hear about Elder Dog and they have a senior that won’t go to the hospital because someone has to look after their dog. We’ll do that.”

On some occasions, Elder Dog will re-home a dog if a senior moves into long-term care or subsidized housing where they can’t keep the pet, or if the senior passes away.

“We will look after re-homing,” Saremba said. “We’re not a rescue organization. We’ve got to be clear about that.”

Saremba said COVID-19 has led to a significant increase in the number of people willing to volunteer for the organization. Since December, they have received more than 100 applications.

“It’s grown exponentially. It’s crazy.”

While the number of volunteers drastically outnumbers clients, Saremba said the organization is still accepting applications because some areas still need coverage.

An Ontario filmmaker, meanwhile, recently premiered a documentary about the organization.

Dwight Storring of Kitchener, Ont. aired ‘Dog’s Best Friend’ on YouTube at the end of January to bring awareness to the efforts made by Elder Dog Canada.

Elder Dog was founded in Nova Scotia in 2009 by Dr. Ardra Cole and now operates across the country.

The 50-minute film explores “the life-changing stories of five families and their dogs. Viewers will meet an aging Great Dane, an athletic German shorthaired pointer, a wire-haired rescue dog, two French bulldogs, and a bull mastiff as they navigate their changing family circumstances.”

For more information about Elder Dog visit www.elderdog.ca or contact 1-855-336-4226 or email info@elderdog.ca

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