Argon & André
Canine Employee &
Coordinator of the reintegration and
residential support program
On the way to our discussion, the interviewee walks, proud and calm, impassive and disciplined, passing through the Ave Maria room, looking straight ahead. This room hosts various activities for the men of the streets staying at Maison du Père. Some of the men there look up to catch a glimpse of our special guest. Suddenly, the screams of young female case workers resound. “Argon!!!”, they exclaim. Our guest is popular enough around Maison du Père to make many people jealous. Obviously, the fact that he walks on all fours and has a thick, lustrous coat takes nothing away from his allure. Quite the contrary.
Argon is the only canine employee of Maison du Père. He is a Saint-Pierre Labernois dog, the result of a cross between the Bernese mountain dog and the Labrador. Its presence at the Maison is, for its part, the result of a collaboration between Maison du Père and the Mira Foundation, the famous non-profit organization offering guide dogs and assistance dogs. The Maison du Père service dog comforts the men it accommodates, promotes exchanges between users and workers, and even defuses crises. To better understand his role, his inseparable companion André, coordinator of the reintegration and residential support program, agreed to meet us in his company.
André has been Argon’s designated companion since 2020. He explains how Argon was rigorously trained to be a service dog by the Mira Foundation. Indeed, he spent a year with a foster family before training for a year with Mira. It is during this period that the precise function of the dog is determined: will he be an emotional support dog, a dog for the disabled, or one for the blind? He later begins his career, and can retire starting from 8 years of age. But, like Argon, André also received training from Mira! For 4 days, he was accommodated in a private room by Mira to learn how to order a Mira dog. The organization maintains a follow-up to this day and Argon divides his time between Maison du Père and his own host family, that of a former Maison du Père employee.
As André explains, Argon’s talents are notably used during the events called “Parlons avec Argon”, or “Let's Talk With Argon”. These meetings take place twice a week, at the J.A. DeSève residence of Maison du Père. “It allows the person to verbalize anything. It often revolves around animals, in the beginning… They say: 'Oh, when I was young, I had a dog, it was a big dog, and I loved him…' Then, the users who don't talk much, when Argon is there, they express themselves 'through' the dog… They’re so happy… you see the expression in their faces,” he says. Then, the presence of the dog, and his “gentleness”, open up the discussion to sometimes deeper confidences, which would never have been made in his absence.
In general, “he senses people who are vulnerable or sad,” and makes himself especially available to these people. In addition, he can defuse crises. “I think that's one of his specialties. Because when someone's angry, you just pass by with the dog, and the guy notices him. And, sometimes, unconsciously, the guy doesn't want to scare him. Oftentimes, Argon will lower the tension, and the guy's attention will be focused on him. The attitude changes completely. », says André. “Argon, he brings a lot to us”.
Sometimes, also, Argon goes on adventure outside Maison du Père, since he is an informal member of the metro intervention team, called l'Équipe métro d'intervention et de concertation, or EMIC. This team is made up, essentially, of a social worker from the Société de développement social, a police officer from the SPVM and an inspector from the STM. It patrols the metro to offer support to people experiencing homelessness and guide them to the resources appropriate to their needs, resources such as Maison du Père. With Argon, “contact is easier”, says André. According to him, without the dog, some people would say they simply don't need any help. With Argon's presence, the individuals approached often address him first, and then allow themselves to be approached by the responders, who can then provide help more easily.
This delicate diplomacy by Argon is made possible by his personality. He has a well-defined character, like any other employee of Maison du Père. André testifies: “I've had plenty of dogs, but I've never seen a dog as gentle as him. I never heard him bark. Never. I've never seen a calm dog like this.” However, upon returning from the weekend on Monday morning, “he's a bit more undisciplined”! Like all of us... And yet, his pleasant personality forged close and strong bonds with his companion André. “Sometimes, the workdays are tough, so when I go back to the office with him, and he comes to see me, it's a real game-changer. So, he’s as important to me as I can be to him.”