A furry friend in a time of need

Emergency situations are, by their very nature, stressful ones. Calling an ambulance means lights, sirens and strangers invading your world at a time of pain or, at the very least, anxiety.

Emergency situations are, by their very nature, stressful ones.

Calling an ambulance means lights, sirens and strangers invading your world at a time of pain or, at the very least, anxiety.

For kids, the emotions during those kinds of experiences can be magnified.

Over the last 21 years, staff from the territory’s Emergency Medical Services have brought along something to help.

In the back of the ambulances, alongside the lifesaving medical equipment, teddy bears wait to be handed out to new friends.

“It’s an unexpected joy in an environment where joy is not expected,” said EMS director Michael McKeage.

The Twin Bear program is run by the Yukon Liquor Corporation. For $12 over the holidays, people can buy a bear from the various liquor stores around the territory. For every bear bought a second one is given to a child or senior who is sick, injured or experiencing a traumatic event.

The furry friends are dispatched to Whitehorse and all the communities. They are also handed out during medevac rides or by Yukon coroners.

“They’ve been a marvelous icebreaker for children that are very afraid, very worried, very self-absorbed into their injury. The bear arriving on the scene with us is unexpected,” McKeage said.

“This gets the child’s mind off somewhat of their injury or illness and they get excited about meeting their bear and beginning their friendship with them.”

The program was originally mirrored after the Share-a-Bear program in B.C., said corporation president Pam Hine.

In the last two decades nearly 11,000 fuzzy friends have been handed out.

Each year a new bear is chosen. This year’s addition wears a red sweater with a snowflake.

The bears are sold starting at the end of November until late December or early January, or whenever the stock runs out.

For 2013 1,008 bears are ready – 504 to be sold and the other half to be given away.

Any spare unsold bears are given to community groups like the women’s transition house, Hine said.

The Yukon program is not unique. Paramedics use stuffed animals as a tool to connect with patients across the country.

A 35-year veteran, McKeage said he’s heard about everything from stuffed bears to dalmatians to moose.

“What we’re able to do is distract children by naming the bear, maybe using the bear to explain to them the conditions or injuries they’re suffering from,” he said.

Other times the animals can act as a complete distraction. In one case, an injured girl formed a deep attachment to her bear early on.

Almost right away the focus became caring for her bear and not her injury.

“The bear was having everything explained to them by the child: ‘Don’t worry, don’t look, it’s fine, everything will be fine.’ It was a very interesting experience where we would ourselves being more directed to take care of the bear than the injuries.”

Sometimes it isn’t the young person who has been hurt. McKeage said watching a family member being worked on by paramedics can be just as traumatic.

“Kids are very concerned about their parents or maybe grandparents. Then all of a sudden for one of these guys to come on the scene,” he said.

The bears can be helpful for more than just the youngest patients. Seniors too, maybe someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, enjoy having something to hold.

McKeage said his staff is always grateful to have the extra help.

“For the people who purchase these, thank you very much. It gives us a wonderful opportunity to give patients of all ages a little surprise and a little joy during a time when they least expect it and probably most need it.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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