Traditional therapy dogs are trained extensively as puppies, but one special service pup earned his title a different way. Hank, a massive English Mastiff, started by comforting his owner after the tragic death of her daughter. Years later, Hank is now an officially trained service dog who helps senior citizens in Winnipeg, Canada. In 2011, Gina Swanson was brutally murdered in her home by her then-boyfriend, Schuyler Van Wissen. After Swanson’s death, her mother, Marie Swanson, faced overwhelming grief. To cope, Swanson focused on caring for her new puppy, Hank. In an interview with Canada’s CTV News, Swanson said the dog’s presence gave her the motivation to get out of bed each day.
Five years later, Hank is no longer a puppy, but a 282-pound behemoth. The gentle giant still provides comfort to Swanson and is now offering the same love to other people in need.
When she realized Hank’s healing role in her grieving process, Swanson decided to enroll the dog in the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. The program trains dogs to be a source of love and stress relief to patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Hank, with his calm demeanor and massive size, was a natural fit.
Now, Swanson and “Hank the Tank,” as he is fondly called, visit the Riverwood Square retirement community once a week. The dog interacts well with people of all ages, and residents look forward to his visits. Speaking to CTV News, a staff member commented that she sees an improvement in social engagement when Hank arrives. This comes as no surprise, as many of the residents have dementia; therapy dogs have been shown to increase happiness and reduce stress in people with dementia-related disorders. Although Hank looks intimidating, his comforting presence is a blessing to Swanson and the Winnipeg seniors she visits. Learn more about how therapy dogs such as Hank provide valuable services to people in need, including soldiers with PTSD.