Born and raised during a deadly health crisis, these furry friends are learning to do their part.
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Barks of life: Guess, with owner Laura Shaver, and Joy, with owner Lorna Bird, have both learned to spot overdoses. Photo by Christopher Cheung.
The dogs were born at the OPS Site during the COVID Pandemic in the Vancouver DTES, VANDU on East Hastings. The dogs have been an amazing support and life savers as they have been quick to learn the symptoms of OD when people using the OPS have been passed out or having difficulty breathing. The dogs have been able to alert people nearby about the need for naloxone, which counters opioid overdoses. Guess, Laura's dog began to spot anyone keeling over or with trouble breathing, especially in VANDU’s injection room. Guess even barks if she notices someone in a deep sleep, worried if they might be in a critical condition.
Aside from the VANDU dogs, there’s at least one dog at another overdose prevention site in the neighbourhood that alerts to overdoses. And yet another site has a certified therapy dog who visits to bring calm and cheer to clients.
In a neighbourhood where many residents live with poverty, illness and isolation, pets like Joy and Guess offer a lot of warmth and love. Requiring care and walks, dogs in particular give a sense of routine to the owners who need it.
On the days the mother and daughter dogs of VANDU show up to work, you might spot them rolling down East Hastings on wheels. Bird rides a scooter, and Joy sits by her legs. Shaver and Steward sometimes push Guess in a baby stroller.
The dogs have attended numerous meetings with their owners at VANDU, ranging from meetings on safe supply regulation to a drinkers’ support group. Their presence has also changed the habits of some of VANDU’s clients.