Service dog helps burn victims heal in Vancouver

The specially trained Yellow Lab works with a retired 31-year-old firefighter from the North Vancouver District to help survivors cope with stress and anxiety.

For the local fire victims, Benji is a very good boy.

The 3.5 year old Yellow Lab is a surgical stress intervention dog who has been specifically trained to assist burn and trauma survivors in managing anxiety.

Benji works with the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, which provides services to the nearly 700 children and adults admitted each year to the burn, trauma and plastics departments at Vancouver General Hospital and BC Children’s Hospital who are at suffer severe trauma.

His caregivers are retired 31-year-old North Vancouver County firefighter Peter Hansen and his wife, Roxanne Gresham.

Benji is trained to sense people under stress and will seek them out alone or under the direction of his caregivers, Hansen explained.

“He’s just putting pressure on her body with his [paw] or body,” he said. “And that grounds a person and lowers stress hormones.”

Hansen has been with the Burn Fund for 34 years and directs the Home Away program, which provides short-term housing for burn and trauma survivors and their families.

Hansen said he has a long-term guest who misses their dogs up in Whitehorse, so she got to know Benji very well. “She and I took him for a walk, and it really made her feel at home.”

While visits have been limited during the pandemic, the Burn Fund is returning to in-person camps and Benji will stay there with the children for a full week.

With the restrictions lifted, Hansen expects he and Benji to be able to go to the burns units at BC Children’s Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital.

At home, Benji is “very relaxed” and loves his caretakers’ two cats. But he gets very focused as he puts on his work jacket.

“He knows he’s working, and he just calms down and gets to work,” Hansen said.

Benji was donated to the Burn Fund by Vancouver Island Compassion Dogsa division of BC and Alberta Guide Dogs.

In partnership with VGH and the UBC Hospital Foundation, the Burn Fund is selling tickets for the 2022 Hometown Heroes Lottery.

Proceeds go to fund specialized adult health services and research at VGH and UBC Hospitals, GF Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and Vancouver Community Health Services. Tickets are available until midnight July 14th or until they sell out.

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