Photographs of Stuart Mah and his 8-year-old dog Nugget are pinned to the walls at Mount Saint Joseph Residence. In one picture, the duo wear big grins and hold a hand-lettered sign that reads “See you soon.”
Stuart and his Rottweiler/shepherd/lab cross have been visiting the long-term care home every Saturday afternoon for almost three years. Nugget, who received pet therapy training through BC Pets and Friends, provides affection and comfort to the residents. Due to visitor restrictions in response to COVID-19, the volunteer pair haven’t been able to visit their friends at MSJ for weeks. Recently, Stuart reached out to make sure the residents know he and Nugget miss them and are thinking of them.
“By sharing photographs with the residents, I want them all to know that Nugget and I care very much about them, and that we’ll be back when it is safe to do so,” he says.
Stuart isn’t the only volunteer who’s reached out to MSJ in recent weeks.
“Many volunteers have called and emailed to express how much they miss our residents and the MSJ community as a whole,” says volunteer resources coordinator Mary Gallop. “Their hearts are with the residents and they want to give and share somehow.”
The volunteer resources long-term care coordination team is currently working on some innovative virtual options to connect volunteers and residents.
“For instance, at MSJ, we’re in the midst of arranging to have one of our MSJ volunteers who used to regularly read the Chinese newspaper for the residents on Friday mornings, to do this for them on Zoom on the weekends soon,” Mary says.
A much-loved routine
Residents, their family members and MSJ staff all eagerly await Stuart and Nugget’s weekly social calls.
“Nugget is a pretty sizable dog, weighing in at close to 95 pounds. However, the residents know Nugget well enough now that they will extend their hand out to him and pat his head or body,” Stuart says.
When Stuart and his canine companion first arrive, they’ll usually stop and watch a bit of TV with one of the residents. Then they saunter along to observe a lively game of mah-jong. Here, Nugget will typically earn a few head scratches before the players are drawn back into their game. In the main recreation room, the pair might catch part of a Chinese movie, listen to a visiting choir, or just stop and chat with residents and their family members. A highlight for Stuart is stopping by the private room of one particular resident who is always up for some one-on-one time with Nugget.
“Their eyes meet and it never fails me to think that something magical is happening,” Stuart says. “The resident always says two words to me, while pointing to us: ‘Beautiful.’ ‘Happy.’ And with that my day is fulfilled.”
The gentle giant
When Stuart and his family rescued Nugget from Northern BC in 2014 they were pleasantly surprised by his “gentlemanly demeanour.” He’s calm and comfortable around people and other animals.
“His temperament inspired us to look into spreading the joy of Nugget to others who would be uplifted by his spirit,” says Stuart. Initially his daughter Laura, who is the volunteer resources coordinator at Youville and Brock Fahrni long-term care homes, would join him and Nugget on their visits.
Though he knows visitor restrictions are in place to keep everyone safe and healthy, Stuart looks forward to resuming the relationships he’s built with his many friends at MSJ. As a busy professional, volunteering is a crucial part of the work-life balance that helps keep him grounded.
“I honestly believe that Nugget and I get just as much joy interacting with the residents as they do with us,” he says.
Follow Nugget on Instagram @thediaryofawimpydog
To learn more about volunteering at Providence, visit www.providencehealthcare.org/volunteers