The beloved pets supporting us through the pandemic

Waterloo alumnus publishes book about the connections between pets and people during isolation and loss

Award-winning author Nancy Silcox (BA ’72, MA ’75) has released the second volume of Workin’ Like a Dog; Doin’ Nuthin’ Like a Cat: Canadian Pets who go to the Office. All proceeds from her new book will go to the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program and Therapeutic Paws of Canada.

nancy and her dogAmong the lingering memories of my student years at the University of Waterloo is an image of a man and a dog.

They were fixtures of campus life, travelling between the Arts Lecture Hall, Hagey Hall and the Dana Porter Library. While the name of the man has been long lost to memory, the dog, a pert Irish Terrier named Teddy, remains vivid more than 50 years later.

Here was a beloved pet going to work with his human. Perhaps to the individual’s office? Perhaps to a classroom? Wholly unique during the era, this memory endures.

Who would have predicted a pandemic would turn fond memory to ambition? Who would have imagined that the lumbering presence of a 170-pound St. Bernard named Ralph, an intuitive Bernedoodle called Memphis and a ginger cat tagged Pouces would transform a plan?

As words like coronavirus and COVID-19 intruded into daily speech last year the concept of Workin’ Like a Dog; Doin’ Nuthin’ Like a Cat: Canadian Pets who go to the Office was born. What had been initially envisioned as a Canada-wide landscape of pets in the workplace became a tribute to the unconditional love, companionship and inspiration they bring in a world of loss, fear and isolation.

Ralph the therapy dog

ralph the dogInspired by the kindly personality of her beloved St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog, Cindy Jantzi of Gadshill, Ont. chose the psychiatric unit of the Stratford General Hospital as their placement.

“What makes Ralph a great therapy dog is that he’s not selective,” Jantzi says. “He doesn’t have favourites.” She recalls how “one patient told me that when he woke up that morning, he was so low he was going to stay in bed all day. But then he remembered it was 'Ralph Day' and he didn’t want to miss that.”

COVID-19 measures over the past year have limited the appearance of pets in the workplace — especially in long-term care homes and hospitals. It seems that humans are not the only ones to miss the interaction.

To ease the pain of separation for both Ralph and his many fans, Yantzi takes her gentle giant on drive-bys past the long-term care home he also visits. “We drive right up to the windows of the dining room and the residents wave to him.”

Memphis the classroom assistant

Teaching school is a challenge at the best of times, but add a disability to the mix and it calls for extra support. When Salem Public School teacher Beth Whysall was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis she applied to her Board to have an assistant. And so Memphis, her beloved Bernedoodle joined the classroom routine.

Little could Whysall have predicted how the personable pooch would also assist her in classroom management.

The return to a COVID-masked, socially-distanced school in September 2020 expanded Memphis’ role. More than one truancy problem has been solved thanks to the support dog. “Memphis misses you when you aren’t here to give him his treat,” offers Whysall. And chances are the truant is back at school regularly.

Controlling classroom exuberance is in Memphis’ bag of tricks too. “Too much noise hurts Memphis’ ears and he won’t want to come back,” warns Teacher. Problem solved!

Pouces the trucker cat

When long-distance trucker, Sean Litwack of Vaudreil, Quebec, decided to ask permission of his employer, CJ Transport to welcome his cat Pouces on board, it was “emotional support” he was looking for.

“Driving can be stressful and of course, very lonely. Then you look over to the passenger seat and there’s your pet upside down on the seat and any angry or sad feelings are gone.”

The isolation of COVID-19 has only added to the stresses of the long-distance trucker. “Pouces is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Litwack says.

Copies of Workin’ Like a Dog; Doin’ Nuthin’ Like a Cat: Canadian Pets who go to the Office can be purchased through Words Worth Books in Waterloo or by contacting Nancy Silcox at silcox@cwisp.ca