As an accredited facility dog, Gaia the Lab will provide “joy, happiness and stability” to families faced with unimaginably difficult circumstances.

Families at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice in Vancouver have a new, friendly face that offers them comfort and emotional support in difficult times.

The hospice recently welcomed its newest dog with “accredited facilities”: an adorable yellow Labrador Retriever named Gaia. It is a product of the Burnaby-based Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS), which breeds, raises, and trains fully certified assistance dogs.

As a therapy dog, Gaia – along with her carers, longtime Canuck Place nurse Camara Van Breemen and nurse Brenda Dewar – will help care for children with life-threatening diseases and their families at Canuck Place Hospices in Vancouver and Abbotsford in addition to supporting the Patient care at home and during hospital consultations.

Canuck Place employees are “excited” to welcome their newest team member, said Tarnia Taverner, CEO of Canuck Place, in a press release.

“The past year has been a challenge for so many of the children and families we care as life-threatening diseases don’t stop or subside in a pandemic,” she added. “Gaia’s presence at Canuck Place brings joy, happiness and stability in a very unstable time. The children for whom Canuck Place provides complex medical care will benefit from the connection, touch and love of Gaia.”

Gaia was selected from “dozens of candidates” to take on the leash from Canuck Place’s former therapy pup, a beloved and much-missed golden retriever named Poppy. After eleven years of service, she unfortunately died of cancer in 2018.

Gaia was selected for the role based on her “ability to identify those who need her support” and “perhaps more importantly” [because] She can support them without taking on the stress herself, “said Laura Watamanuk, Managing Director of PADS.

“This is a rare trait in dogs, just as it is in the special people who work at Canuck Place.”

In one particular coincidence, Gaia was raised and trained by the same pair of longtime PADS volunteer puppy breeders who raised their Canuck Place predecessor Poppy.

Gaia’s role in the hospice is made possible through YVR for Kids, an annual gala and golf tournament hosted by the Clear Skies Children’s Foundation. The committee created a fund to support the Canuck Place Therapy Dog program after seeing “the incredible impact” Poppy had on the children and families that Canuck Place cares for.

“It brings immense smiles to the faces of the YVR for Kids committee just to see the comfort and joy it will bring to the children and families of Canuck Place,” said Nigel Newsome, president of YVR for Kids.