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Malakai Brings Joy

December 2, 2020

Malakai not only loves his job, he will also love you unconditionally.

He’s a husky-shepherd pup, growing by leaps and bounds, that brings joy and peace-of-mind to the clients at the supervised drug-injection clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where his owner, Kelsi Jessamine, works.

The registered nurse wasn’t looking for a therapeutic dog when she adopted Malakai from the Vancouver B.C. SPCA in June, but brought him into work one day and he was a hit with colleagues and clients alike.

“One of my colleagues calls Malakai ‘Mally the Magic Mood Booster,’ ” Jessamine said of the six-month-old, 80 pound pooch.

While Malakai — Hebrew for messenger of God — isn’t a certified therapy dog (yet), Jessamine said his gentle, charismatic nature and adaptable personality make him ideal for the job.

“Malakai is a name used quite a bit in Indigenous communities,” she said. “One of my clients has a brother named Malakai and she felt very spiritually connected to the dog.”

Clients will often ask if Malakai is on-site before they register to come into the clinic. One client, for example, came into the clinic experiencing complex pain, was in tears and wasn’t ready to engage with staff, but did ask to see Malakai. The pup went over to the client’s wheelchair and she hugged him until she felt better and was calm enough to engage with staff, Jessamine said.

Another client, who was experiencing persecutory delusions and believed staff meant him harm — he had refused support for more than three hours — immediately became co-operative after rubbing Malakai’s tummy.

“Malakai provided a positive distraction and helped the client feel safe,” Jessamine said. “Clients who are experiencing auditory or visual hallucinations, due to mental illness or substance use, generally don’t have the capacity to therapeutically engage with clinic staff. In Malakai’s presence, however, clients experiencing psychosis will unexpectedly strike up conversation with clinic staff and begin telling you about the pets they had growing up.”

Malakai loves his job and can’t wait to get to work, Jessamine added. As they walk to the clinic he gets excited blocks away, and when they enter the building it’s like he’s going to see all his friends.

“The impact he’s had is more than I expected,” she said. “People who are using substances and having mental illnesses and experiencing homelessness, their lives are completely chaotic, they’re functioning day-to-day. Malakai gives people something to look forward to, coming into the clinic and asking for him. The most challenging and guarded clients who we see at the clinic will suddenly start smiling in the presence of the dog.

“It’s really special to witness it and be a part of it.”


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