North Bay crisis support dog Chewie stays connected to the community
NORTH BAY -- It’s been nearly three years since Chewie joined the team at Victim Services of Nipissing District and the little yellow lab is still doing his job, even with in-person visits on hold for now.
“We have a lot of health and safety guidelines to follow in regards to COVID-19 so we’re not currently visiting community agencies,” said handler Gillian McIntosh. “But this has given us an opportunity to connect with our community in different ways.”
Since the pandemic started, Chewie has had to get creative when it comes to supporting the community. It's a job that he has been on top of since moving to North Bay in 2018.
“We were able to do a virtual story time with the Callander Library and the kids sent us a lot of really thoughtful questions about Chewie’s job that we were able to answer,” said McIntosh.
The virtual story time was filmed at the North Bay Police station and the library streamed it later for the community.
“He’s such a popular personality here at the library,” said CEO Melissa Sones. “He’s been here for other programs in the past before we closed to the public, so it was a nice opportunity for the children and residents of Callander to get to see Chewie again virtually.”
Stones said it was a great way to connect virtually with the community.
"It makes everyone feel comfort in knowing that the library is still here and we’re still doing all the regular things that we do,” she said.
A Chewie-based colouring book has also been published, giving people an opportunity to learn about his job at Victim Services and relax during a stressful time in the world.
“Colouring’s great for people of all ages and I think especially during lockdown it’s a really helpful way for some people to manage their stress,” said McIntosh.
There are still a few colouring books up for grabs at the Callander Library.
“Everyone does love to see a dog and Chewie is such a friendly, happy dog that people are just happy to see that right now,” said Sones. “We all need some joy.”
Keeping up with his virtual duties, Chewie has also been giving out some lockdown tips to help keep people busy.
“During COVID-19, Victim Services has been putting out self-care tips from Chewie,” said McIntosh. “So it’s just a little bit of advice on what you can do during lockdown, whether or not that’s having a Zoom with your friends and with your family or even getting out for a walk if you have a dog.”
“We find that’s been really helpful, we’re getting a lot of positive feedback,” she added.
During a regular year, Chewie visits a lot of community agencies like the Children’s Aid Society, the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, the North Bay Farmers Market and the Victim Witness Assistance Program at the North Bay Courthouse. He usually works Monday to Friday and can be called out if someone really needs him.
“Chewie is task trained, so when somebody is in crisis, he knows that he can lie across their feet or rest his head on their lap,” said McIntosh. “We find that he is a very calming presence in the room, especially for children and I think he reminds a lot of people of their own pets who they love.”
Although finding ways to stay virtually involved, Chewie can’t wait until he can get back out into the community in person again.