Meet Mocha, the canine “game changer”

While many service animals have made an appearance at The Royal over the years, Mocha is only the second service dog to stay on an inpatient with its owner. 

Mocha, and his owner, Julie, have only been together for three years but their bond is deep. He was given to Julie by a friend. 

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Mocha is the second service dog to stay with his owner on an inpatient unit at The Royal.
Mocha is the second service dog to stay with his owner on an inpatient unit at The Royal.

“He needed someone to love him and be with him, and I definitely needed a dog,” describes Julie, an officer currently on leave from the RCMP. “We're just two peas in a pod.” 

Although he wasn’t trained as a service dog, Julie knew he had the perfect attributes. Extremely docile and well-trained, Mocha is a non-allergenic cockapoo (part cocker spaniel and part poodle) that doesn’t shed.   

Julie had him officially certified as a service dog and they’ve been inseparable ever since. 

Service dogs can be trained to do a wide range of tasks to assist their owners. Many people are already familiar with dogs who support people who are visually impaired, but dogs can also be trained to support people with hearing impairments, to recognize seizures before they happen, or to assist people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like Julie. 

“Mocha recognizes that I'm not well and so I will just sit down with him,” describes Julie. “He stays with me, and I pet him, and he reassures me. I know it won't be forever and if I can pet him, calm myself down and use the tools and techniques that I've learned, then we can continue on with our groceries.”

“Mocha has been a complete game changer for me,” says Julie. “I have a lot of anxiety and difficulty with triggers and going out to public places. He’s allowed me to join the world in a way I haven't been able to do before.” 

When Mocha is by her side, Julie is better equipped to do tasks that were out of reach before, like grocery shopping, which sometimes triggered an anxiety attack. Before Mocha, Julie might have frozen or bolted, or avoided going to the store altogether. Now, if she has an anxiety attack, he helps her through it.  

“Mocha recognizes that I'm not well and so I will just sit down with him,” describes Julie. “He stays with me, and I pet him, and he reassures me. I know it won't be forever and if I can pet him, calm myself down and use the tools and techniques that I've learned, then we can continue on with our groceries.”

“It's really changed the way that I am able to live my day-to-day life.”

PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who experience a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Although symptoms may begin directly following a traumatic experience, sometimes they appear years later. Symptoms of PTSD include: “re-experiencing” the event in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts; avoiding thoughts, feelings, or situations that serve as reminders of the event; feeling numb or cut off from others; being easily startled; and being overly vigilant.

 

Julie can count on Mocha’s warm and fuzzy presence to tether her to the present, even at night when recurring nightmares interrupt her sleep.

“When I wake up in the night he's right there beside me and he cuddles right in, it is such a comfort,” says Julie. “He just helps me through it. It's amazing that he's brought back a quality of life for me.” 

Ashleigh McGuinty, a recreation therapist who was on Julie’s care team, says staff and clients were delighted to have the opportunity to interact with Mocha during Julie’s stay.  

“People love pet therapy,” says McGuinty. “It helps peoples' mental health and anxiety, depression, and other things too.”

Julie says even people who are a bit nervous around dogs are excited to meet Mocha. His warm and gentle nature make him a perfect canine ambassador. 

“Support dogs impact people in such a positive way when you're not well, and I think it's such a wonderful thing to be able to bring him in here,” says Julie. “I think if hospitals can continue with that momentum, it will bring so much good to the patients who need it.”