Video: Animal therapy, service dogs, pets & dementia care

Tune into this edition of Dementia Talks! Canada on animal therapy, service dogs, pets & dementia care their as we discuss the positive impacts of animal therapies on the lives of people with dementia, tips, personal stories and more!

Are you a person living with dementia who has found access to animals or pets helpful? Are you a caregiver or family member who has observed the positive effects of animals or pets on the life of someone with dementia? Do you remain a “dog person” or “cat person” (or “axolotl person,” etc.!) irrespective of what health issues come your way?

In this edition of Dementia Talks! Canada, held on August 10, 2023, experts discussed the positive impacts of animal therapies on the lives of people with dementia and ways animal interactions might need to adapt around dementia. Our panelists also shared findings, tips, context, personal stories and more.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Ardra Cole, Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, founder of the national charity ElderDog Canada, and researcher on older adult–canine relationships, among other topics
  • Dr. Frédéric Dumont, Research Professional at the Interdisciplinary Center for Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration at Laval University in Quebec City; Frédéric has recently worked with Dr. Claude Vincent to evaluate the impact of service dogs on people living with dementia
  • Trisha Halpenny, caregiver of a family member living with dementia, and dog owner
  • Wendy Hodgson, person living with mild cognitive impairment, caregiver of a family member living with dementia, and therapy-dog owner

The talk was moderated by Sian Lockwood, Knowledge Transfer & Exchange Associate at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

If you are passionate about animals and pets and their positive impacts on health — or even the challenges they might pose in certain health situations, or ways animal interactions might need to adapt around dementia — watch this talk!

Some of the links shared in the talk chat


More about the speakers in this conversation

Dr. Ardra Cole

A woman with short brown-grey hair and black jacket kneels next to a small brown dog

Dr. Ardra Cole is Professor in Lifelong Learning at Mount Saint Vincent University and Founder of ElderDog Canada – a national charity to support the well-being of older adults and their canine companions.

ElderDog was inspired by Ardra’s program of research on caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease. Her current research focuses on the meaning of dogs in seniors’ lives and the role of dogs in continuing care.

Ardra has published extensively in conventional and non-conventional academic prose and in alternative, scholarly, non-print media. Ardra has had a lifelong commitment to volunteering and extensive experience in animal-assisted therapy and pet loss bereavement.

She has received several awards for her research and community service including the Urban Animal Innovation Award, Northwood Live More Award for Distinction in Research, Canadian Progress Club Halifax Citadel Women of Excellence Award (Trailblazer), the  Mount Saint Vincent University President’s Award for External Service and The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship Award. As she moves through life in the company of dogs, Ardra continues to learn about the meaning of love, loyalty, and living in the moment.  

Frédéric Dumont

A man with short brown hair and a green sweater and blue shirt, smiling

Frédéric Dumont holds a PhD in neurobiology from Université Laval as well as a graduate certificate in project management from UQAR. He has worked at the Interdisciplinary Center for Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (Cirris, in Quebec City) since 2011 as a research professional on a variety of projects that have evolved over the years.

In his early years at Cirris, he coordinated a major Canada-wide study on the needs of people with spinal cord injury. Also having an artistic side, he was put forward by the granting agency that funded this study (Rick Hansen Institute) in their series of portraits of key players in research.  .

He also had the chance to work with Dr. Claude Vincent on various assessment tools related to social participation, and on a series of three research projects evaluating the impact of service dogs in the lives of people using a wheelchair, of veterans with PTSD, and of people living with dementia, as well as their caregivers.

Trisha Halpenny

A woman with straight brown hair smiles next to a medium-sized brown dog

Trisha Halpenny (BSc, MHA) is a caregiver for her father who has been living with dementia for almost 5 years. Trisha is also an animal lover and dog-owner and has seen first-hand the amazing effect that animals can have on the lives of those living with dementia through her own dog’s interactions with her father.

Trisha is passionate about bringing animals into the lives of those living with dementia, and other chronic illnesses, in an effort to focus less on the illness and more on enhancing quality of life. 

Trisha works as a Senior Project Manager for Providence Health Care in Vancouver, where she implements clinical digital solutions to support patient care. Trisha also volunteers as a judge with Skate Canada and on the Activity Committee with Big Sisters of BC and Lower Mainland.  

Wendy Hodgson

A woman with short grey hair and pink sweater sits on a couch with a small brown dog

Wendy Hodgson grew up in Montreal, came to the University of Guelph for her BA and loved the area so much she never left. After her retirement from a career in education in 2009, Wendy and her husband took their 37-foot sailboat south to the Bahamas and Caribbean, where they spent 9 winters sailing, snorkelling, hiking, and enjoying the beautiful islands and wonderful people. 

In 2018, Wendy moved her mother to a facility in Guelph so she could assist with her care. That same year, at the age of 65, Wendy began noticing signs of her own cognitive decline and was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), amnestic type. Wendy became an avid researcher of all things related to MCI and dementia, and has learned first-hand the powerful impact lifestyle can have on the progression of disease. She is somewhat obsessive about monitoring and improving her diet, exercise, sleep, social activities and new learning activities.  

In addition to spending time with family and friends, taking advantage of activities in her community, and dabbling with writing, one of Wendy’s favourite things is walking, training, playing with and loving her four-year-old miniature poodle, Piper.

Seeing the positive effect Piper has when visiting her mom, Wendy had Piper qualified as a St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog, and they spend time each week visiting in assisted living and memory care, where Piper is well loved by residents and staff alike.  

Moderator: Sian Lockwood

A woman with long brown hair and green sweater kneels next to a black lab dog

Sian Lockwood is a Knowledge Transfer and Exchange Associate at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, where she co-develops knowledge translation and exchange tools and resources that provide information and education to people living with dementia and care partners. 

Sian holds a BSc Psychology and a Master in Library and Information Science. She previously worked at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, Alzheimer's Society UK and the Partnerships in Dementia Care Alliance, University of Waterloo, where she supported lived experience advisory groups, information services and research that is changing the culture of dementia care, enabling older adults and people living with dementia to and their care partners to live well. She lives in New Brunswick with her husband and two dogs. 


For more information

If you have any questions or suggestions about this or any other Dementia Talks! Canada event, please email

Dementia Talks! Canada is produced by Alzheimer Society of Canada and Brain Canada, two of Canada's leading brain-health organizations.

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Join us for regular online talks that bring together researchers, people with lived experience, and community members to discuss vital topics and stories in dementia.

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