Halifax Heroes: A man and his best friend making a big difference
Glen Amirault and his dog Duke are helping to make the lives of seniors in our city, better.
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For almost eight years, Glen Amirault and his dog Duke have helped make the lives of Northwood Halifax residents a bit brighter.
With his bright red scarf, enthusiastic wagging tail and love of attention, Duke is a people pleaser.
“There was a lady in her late 80s or early 90s who had Alzheimers. She wouldn’t talk to anyone. She’d be sitting there in her wheelchair all day, her husband by her side very, very faithfully every day,” Amirault recalled.
“She never moved and this one day, all of a sudden, she put her hand out and started talking to Duke. Not a lot, but she began speaking to him. She talked. That’s what dogs do.”
Duke, a very spry 11 year-old yellow Labrador retriever, fit into Northwood from the very beginning.
“A lot of these people had pets when they were living in their own homes … A lot of them had dogs that resembled him, and they’re going back to their earlier years in a positive way,” Amirault said.
“Some of them, he’ll lie by their feet. One lady insists he jump on her bed and he does. He won’t jump on anybody else’s bed, but she wants him on the bed so she can pet him better. He’s just a glutton for attention.”
In addition to being a regular Wednesday visitor to Northwood for the past seven and a half years, Duke is the reason Amirault logged more than 300 volunteer hours at the continuing care facility in 2016.
“Everybody loved him and they petted him and fawned all over him. And I thought well I can do more than bring him in once a week, I can maybe do other things,” he said.
“Through the amazing (recreation programmer) Renée Patterson I found out how much there was to do at Northwood. The process began then and it evolved.”
From weekly bingos and singing gigs to helping with new volunteer orientation and playing the role of Santa Claus, Amirault’s thousands of hours of volunteerism earned him a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from Governor General David Johnston in June.
“I am passionate about what I do and I don’t really feel I deserve the medal,” he said. “I showed it to the seniors when I got it and said it’s because of you that I got this. You’re making me have a ball here.”
Amirault retired from teaching in 2004. When it came time to decide where to volunteer, he said it was an easy choice.
From his early childhood he’d always had what he calls “a reverence” for seniors. His son was involved in volunteerism as a child, and now Amirault brings his 10-year-old grandson along to Northwood.
“He loves it. I want my grandson to first of all have respect for seniors. That’s lacking in this world right now. Those seniors they’ve been there, they’ve done that, and we can learn from them,” he said.
“Some of them have no family, some have family who don’t go there and for those who have no visitors, when you can interact with them on a personal level it means the world to them…Somebody is showing them that they are still relevant, and that is why I still do it.”
Amirault said he doesn’t think of himself as a hero, and wanted to take the opportunity to encourage people to consider volunteering at Northwood.
“I get more than I give. Every time I go in there I feel better when I leave than when I walked in because at the end of the day…I know that I’ve seen so many smiles, laughs or giggles,” he said.
“I know I’ve made a difference in the lives of some of these residents who are mostly seniors. I’m a senior myself but I don’t see myself there yet. It’s a win-win situation and that gives me the most joy.”
Do you have someone to nominate?
Each Monday, we will profile an unsung volunteer hero in our community as part of Halifax Heroes. To nominate someone, email firstname.lastname@example.org, Metro Halifax's managing editor, or Tweet @metrohalifax using the hashtag #Halifaxheroes