Long-term patients in Unit 72 of the Foothills Hospital are the beneficiaries of extra attention from a trained volunteer who takes time out of her busy day to provide unconditional love.

Merlot, the yellow lab, is a trained service dog who assists a child in Calgary who has Down Syndrome. When the boy is at school, his mother, Jo-Lynn Furdal, a recreational therapist, brings the dog to the hospital to spend time with the patients and to keep the canine’s skills honed.

“She has to main control, she has to stay focused,” explains Furdal. “That could be spending 20 minutes with a patient with her head in their lap.”

Furdal says Merlot’s skills require practice or she could lose her training and become an ordinary dog.

Angela Lauderman has been hospitalized for nearly a year as she continues to receive medical treatment for a number of health issues. Visits with Merlot have been an ongoing component of Angela’s therapy and she appreciates the time the dog’s contributions.

“(Nurses) don’t have the time to take care of you,” “Everybody has ten patients. They don’t have time to sit with you or know you on a personal level.

“Merlot brings out, I don’t know, something in you to make you happy, to make you smile. I wish she could be here every day.”

Angela’s health has improved and she expects to be released from the hospital in the near future.

Several of the patients Merlot visits are semi-comatose. The interaction between dog and patient is limited, consisting of the patient’s hands resting on Merlot, but hospital staff has noticed a change in the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure.

Merlot’s skills were developed over two years of training with the organization Dogs with Wings.

With files from CTV's Karen Owen