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Benelux the Labernese: bringing joy and happiness

One of the newest residents of The Lighthouse, Children and Families, Benelux offers a soothing presence, bringing comfort and joy every day to children and staff alike. 

Ever since joining The Lighthouse in August 2020, Benelux, a gentle 2.5-year-old Labernese, has been making life a bit easier for the facility’s young patients. His arrival was made possible thanks to the generous support of pet retailer Mondou and a partnership with the Mira Foundation. He’s the first dog assigned to a pediatric palliative care facility in Québec, working 4 or 5 days a week, just like any employee. 

Since mid-February, from morning to night during the week, Benelux has been at the side of assigned nurse Patricia Higgins as she tends to the facility’s children. “Many types of animals visit The Lighthouse from time to time, but Benelux is different because he’s a trained guide dog who was specially selected for this role.” 

That means he’s available to children who want to pet or walk with him, hold him on a leash or just need his comforting presence. “We always respect the children’s wishes and don’t force anything on them. They’re often the ones who take the initiative to develop a relationship with Benelux. But, if we see that any of them are uncomfortable in any way or sense any sort of fear, we respond, because we understand their nonverbal cues.” 

Pure delight 

Nurse Higgins sees all the ways Benelux has had a positive impact. “Some children have muscle contractures that reduce joint mobility, but as soon as they see Benelux, they hold out their arms to pet him. Others who’ve lost their faculties because of illness excitedly point at the dog to indicate they want to pet him. It’s been shown that stroking a dog’s fur is very enjoyable and soothing.” 

Benelux is also helpful in difficult situations, like end-of-life discussions with families. “He now comes with me to these meetings,” says Higgins. It’s still very emotional, but having him there always changes the energy in the room.” 

Here’s how Higgins describes her job: “I look for opportunities day to day for Benelux to bring calm, comfort and relief to children, parents and co-workers.” 

A dog on a mission 

Speaking of co-workers, The Lighthouse staff also enjoy the benefits of their new companion. “This work can be really intense, but having Benelux here is comforting and reduces the stress of our jobs.” 

It doesn’t mean employees can treat Benelux as if he were a family pet, though. “We have to see him as a co-worker and respect certain boundaries. That means we don’t use baby talk to get his attention or encourage him to come play with us. We always have to stay focused on the children and their well-being.” 

The opposite is true, too. Even though Benelux has a very sociable temperament, he’s not allowed to go up to everyone he meets in the hallways or rooms or any other area of The Lighthouse. “It’s my job to determine what kind of behaviour is called for based on the situation.”

And we often have to make small changes in how he interacts with us. For example, we saw that some wheelchairs were so high that children couldn’t easily reach down to pet him, so Benelux learned to place his front paws on a little bench, which makes it easier for the kids to pet him. Little things like this make a big difference.”  

Being in the present moment 

All in all, says Higgins, Benelux has been a perfect fit with The Lighthouse’s mission to help children and their families. “No matter how the person interacts with him, they’re completely in the moment. They don’t feel anxious or nervous and aren’t worried about what will happen next.”

That’s true for parents, too. “Not only do they see how much joy the dog brings their children, but when they see Benelux and touch or speak to him, they’re not worrying about an upcoming medical appointment.” 

Although he isn’t able to make children better, Benelux possesses the very special power to bring joy and happiness to ordinary moments. “And that’s clear every time someone’s eyes automatically light up when they see him.”