main hospital building at night


Meet Charlee, CCH Therapy Dog!


When visiting Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH), you might have noticed a hospital team member with four legs and a tail. That would be Charlee, a 4-year-old Labrador Retriever who has been with the hospital as a therapy dog since 2019.

The idea of a therapy dog was brought up in 2018 as we brainstormed new and innovative ways to support our staff. Today, as the hospital recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and we work through our 2022-2027 Strategic Plan – which identifies the need to support the wellbeing of our People as a strategic priority – Charlee’s therapeutic presence at CCH has become more important than ever.

As a certified therapy dog through the Canadian Kennel Club, Charlee is fully trained in obedience and manners and provides affection, comfort, and love to our staff, physicians, volunteers, students, midwives, and more. She wears a dedicated therapy dog vest and even has her own hospital ID badge.

Charlee usually works all day from Monday to Friday, often called to visit staff working in the Emergency Department, palliative care, or other nursing units following stressful shifts. She also attends meetings alongside her full-time handler, Jennifer Barkley, the hospital’s Director of Diagnostic Services.

“Working in a hospital, staff are often faced with extremely demanding, stressful, and traumatic situations, but when Charlee enters the room, you can just feel everybody’s spirits being lifted. She’ll even make her way next to someone who she feels is anxious or stressed and signal that she wants some attention. It’s truly amazing to see her practising and providing therapy in real-time,” explains Jennifer.

According to Jennifer, the morale boost that Charlee brings to the workplace every day is truly palpable.

“I can’t go for a walkaround with Charlee without being stopped numerous times along the way. She’s even developed a reputation with community partners, such as paramedics and police officers, who often make a point of visiting Charlee when they are at the hospital.”

For Stefani Groulx, a Registered Nurse in our Emergency Department, a good day isn't really a good day without seeing Charlee’s wagging tail at least once.

“Working in the Emergency Department has been a little overwhelming with how busy it’s been, so I always try and make a point to stop in to see Charlee when I have a minute, and I’m not the only one who does that. Seeing her allows us to momentarily forget about our stresses or pressures and she just makes you feel happy,” says Stefani.

Stefani recalls a time at work when she was struggling emotionally following the passing of her long-time pet Goldendoodle, and she appreciated being able to stop in and see Charlee for some much-needed therapy.

“Charlee could tell I was hurting, so she brought me a stuffed toy and pushed it under her gate to show me that she was there for me.”

In fact, Charlee’s no stranger to handing out stuffed animals. Although she isn’t a therapy dog for patients (due to infection control and allergy reasons), Charlee recently brought some holiday cheer to our paediatric patients over the holidays, delivering stuffed animals from a safe distance at the bedside.

This was made possible through a special partnership with our local PetSmart Cornwall. For several weeks, customers at PetSmart Cornwall could purchase a PetSmart holiday plush toy and donate it back to the store to be distributed by Charlee at the hospital.

Through this initiative, CCH received a donation of over 300 holiday plush toys to be distributed by Charlee to any child or patient who needed a smile, and there were certainly lots of smiles to be had.

When it’s all said and done, Jennifer says there’s no denying that Charlee is committed to her friends at CCH.

“When we get home at the end of the day, she turns herself off and often spends her evenings sleeping and relaxing. Every day that she’s on duty at the hospital, she’s giving absolutely all of herself to help provide comfort and love to the people around her.”