Teresa Zurberg Is Revolutionizing Infection Control in Health Care


Teresa Zurberg and Angus, one of the Canine of Care program’s remarkable infectious disease sniffing dogs © Courtesy of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

Former cardiology technologist, handler for bomb-sniffing dogs, Canadian military medic, and Emergency Medical Technician Teresa Zurberg has already lived through many storied careers.

But none has proven more impactful than co-founding the internationally renowned Canines for Care program at Vancouver Coastal Health. This program—launched thanks to a donor-funded pilot through VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation—is revolutionizing infection control methods locally and globally, utilizing highly trained disease-sniffing dogs, which help prevent the spread of certain illnesses in hospitals and healthcare settings.

This program is one more step in Zurberg’s busy life, which has always had a connecting thread, no matter her role—caring for people.

And it didn’t start because of values instilled in her by her father and extended family, who worked in the Alberta Health Care sector. And it wasn’t because of a sense of duty to help her community and those in it, which she does.

For Zurberg, it all started because of a TV series she watched as a kid that blew her mind.

“Way back in the early ‘70s, there was a show called ‘Emergency!,’” said Zurberg. “And I was like, ‘Wow, look at these guys in the ambulance.’ Since then, it has always just been an interest of mine, and I still miss it a little bit on the front lines, to go on the calls.”

Military life, medical care, and meeting the pups

Zurberg moved to British Columbia from her home in Alberta in 2005. She was assigned to a post at Jericho Beach by the Canadian Military, which she had joined in her mid-20s to pursue a dream of becoming a medic.

In B.C., her role became medically clearing other military personnel on their way to Afghanistan as reservists and then helping them again on their return.

During her posting, Zurberg had to do what the military calls “skill maintenance,” upkeep of her medic abilities. This was done at VGH in the Emergency Department, where she attended trauma rounds. It was here she met a number of people who would soon help change her direction in life.

“I met people, I actually met my husband here, and it turned out he was a nurse at VGH,” she said. “And I loved dogs. That was what bonded us, we both had dogs, and so we went on a dog-date.”

Five years later, in 2010, Zurberg retired from military duty. Instead, she went to BCIT as a full-time student to become a Cardiology Technician and then began working full-time as a Canine Detection Specialist—a role she quickly fell into after talking to one of the dog handlers she saw sniffing around BC Ferries.

teresa zurberg
In her spare time, Teresa competes in "schutzhund", a dog sport that tests tracking, obedience, and protection skills. © Courtesy of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

“We started talking, and I learned that the security company was in Maple Ridge,” recalled Zurberg. “Long story short, I ended up going there and they handed me a dog and said, ‘Show us what you can do.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m just here to watch.’ They’re like, ‘Go try. Go try and run this dog on the wall.’ And next thing I knew, I had a job. I was now going to school and training full-time to be a canine detection specialist.”

For four years, she utilized canines to detect bombs at concerts, on ferries, at Canucks games, and more.

In 2013, Zurberg ended up in hospital after injuring her leg. While there, she contracted Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C. diff. It was devastating to Zurberg, who suffered through the inflammation in her colon until she recovered well enough to return home. She was, however, forever changed by the experience.

One year later, in 2014, a pivotal moment happened. Her husband showed her an article about dogs in the Netherlands who were being trained to smell out C. diff.

“Then I started to piece things together,” Zurberg continued. “I loved dogs; I had the ability now to train dogs to sniff out anything we prepared them for.”

Building an internationally renowned program

Zurberg kickstarted conversations at VGH, which would launch what is now known as the Canines for Care program, which was able to start thanks to donations made in 2016.

Since then, her program has skyrocketed. Led today by a multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals, dog handlers, and infection control practitioners, the team is an international leader in using dogs to rapidly and non-invasively detect pathogens and reduce infection rates in healthcare settings.

“We’ve been covered on every continent in the world, including Antarctica,” explained Zurberg. “Every year internationally since we started, media somewhere has highlighted what we are doing. I’ve met all the Ministers of Health since we started; I’ve spoken at conferences all around North America.”

Knowledge-sharing is one aspect of her work Zurberg adores. She regularly receives messages from individuals interested in setting up their own programs in Europe, South America, North America, and more. In fact, it prompted her next goal—to create a Centre for Excellence.

“We want to be the place that people come to learn all about biomedical detection with dogs and how you can use it in a health care setting,” she said.

Today, Zurberg’s program has five active dogs working around Vancouver Coastal Health—Angus, Traveler, Fancy, and most recently, Fancy’s two pups, Arti and Anton.

Yet when she’s not at work training and working sniffing dogs to help reduce infections at the hospital, she’s winding down with her own hobbies of archery and “Schutzhund”—a German sport she does with her dog, a German shepherd.

“At the end of the day, I like to keep busy,” said Zurberg. “I love my work, and I love my hobbies. And I am immensely proud of my accomplishments, but I know there’s more work ahead.”

Powered by donations, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is proud to support the launch of innovative and groundbreaking programs like Canines for Care.

Donate today at vghfoundation.ca/give-to-transform, and together, we will transform health care.

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VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is Vancouver Coastal Health’s primary philanthropic partner, raising funds for specialized adult health services and research for all British Columbians.


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