Furry Friends Inspiring Recovery in Thunder Bay

by chrismcgregor
Categories: Divisional News

Step into The Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre and you’ll be greeted by the playful and excitable presence of new residents: two young husky shepherd cross puppies. These furry companions aren’t just cute; they’re part of a transformative program designed to empower men living with addiction.

As program participants progress on their path to recovery, the puppies play a crucial role in creating a sense of responsibility, patience, and loyalty. The dogs walk faithfully alongside residents focused on building a purposeful, addiction-free life.

Buddy and Jax are in the care of Hans and Tim, two men giving the same importance and focus on the dogs as they are on overcoming their struggles with substance use through the centre’s transitional housing program.

“Jax is a reminder that life exists outside of the things we do to dull our pain. Having a dog focuses our energy and our mentality to bring us to a good place,” Tim says. “Jax shows me that life can be challenging, but he makes me realize that I can meet life’s challenges. Taking care of this puppy changes my perspective and my mindset.”

Hans says he has no problem with his dog Buddy waking him up at 5 a.m. every morning, excitedly looking for attention and playtime.

“Buddy gives me a purpose to be better and improve my life. I get up with him, feed him, bathe him, and take him out for walks,” Hans says. “With a puppy, you are looking after an animal that needs constant care. He is a distraction so instead of worrying about my addiction I’m focused on my dog.”

Since the foster program started in partnership with rescue organization Northern Reach Network, 16 puppies have been placed in the loving care of centre residents, who socialize the dogs prior to permanent adoption.

“The clients and dogs get to experience unconditional love from each other, many for the first time in their lives,” says Cathy Oleschuk, program services director at the Journey to Life Centre. “There is nothing that warms your heart more than seeing these frightened, innocent little puppies go from tail tucked and tremoring to tail wagging and bouncing about playfully; and watching these grown men let their guards down and talking baby talk to the dogs.”

Program caseworker Karen Huttman says that if the Journey to Life foster program did not exist to transition dogs to their forever home, she doesn’t know what would happen to them.

“As sad as it is to see the puppies leave, the care they receive here is beneficial to their life and improves the wellbeing of our residents,” she says.

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Journey to Life Centre, says the fostering program will continue as long as there are residents interested in looking after a puppy.

“Thank you to Tim and Hans for the attentive care and training of these dogs that keeps this important program going,” Gary says. “These dogs’ new owners will know they were loved and well-cared for, and our residents are learning beneficial life skills that will serve them well in the future.”

Your donation to The Salvation Army supports this and many other life-changing programs and services in communities across Ontario. Visit www.salvationarmy.ca or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY today.