REGINA - Santa may deliver the gifts, but it's an RCMP puppy named Elf who is bringing cheer to sick children.
The 10-week-old German shepherd visited kids at a rehabilitation centre in Regina on Tuesday as part of the K9 Cops for Kids Christmas campaign.
"We're trying to give them the feeling of being back at home. Animals, especially puppies, just bring smiles on people's faces," said RCMP Cpl. Sean Cleary.
"It's just a little bit of home in the hospital environment."
Each child also gets a stuffed dog that looks like Elf. Cleary said the toy is something for the kids to cuddle with and hold when "they're having a bit of a tougher time."
"The reaction from the kids has been amazing, from absolute joy, elatement," he said.
"It's just been really nice. And not only the kids, but also the parents because ... for them, being in hospital over Christmas, they're tired, they're stressed out ... as any parent would be. So it's a little of a relief for them, too, not only to see their kids happy, but ... it's a little bit of a break for them as well."
Krista Smith was at the rehabilitation centre with her eight-year-old Logan. Logan has athetoid cerebral palsy and has to go to the centre every couple of weeks for therapy.
Smith said they were a little shocked to see Elf this time.
"I think it definitely made the day for the kids because they're used to coming, but it was something out of the ordinary and it kind of surprised them and it was exciting," said Smith.
"He was very excited."
Elf sat on Logan's lap and licked at the little boy's face. Logan smiled, said "Hi Elf" and petted the dog's fur.
Cleary, who has two young children of his own, said he started the program because he wanted to help other kids.
Cleary, other RCMP officers and municipal police dog handlers expect to visit nearly 120 children in pediatric hospital units in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.
Saskatchewan is believed to be the first province to offer the program, but Cleary hopes it's not the last.
"I'm just really hoping that not only will it be an annual event, but it will expand across the country."