Local therapy dog ​​program to make a comeback

St. John Ambulance is thrilled to relaunch its canine therapy program after the pandemic forced it to put the initiative on hold for nearly three years

Residents in need of furry affection will soon get a huge boost.

St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog ​​program will make its long-awaited return to the Sault after being forced to go on hiatus during the pandemic.

Local program coordinator Joey Kirkwood is excited to bring the initiative back into the community, especially for the residents who depended on it the most.

“Anyone who owns a dog or loves dogs can understand the effect they can have on people,” she says. “Being able to get the program back up and running is really exciting. There’s definitely a need in the community, so we’re really excited to bring it back.

Not to be confused with service dogs, therapy dogs and their owners will travel to various locations around the city to cheer up and comfort those in need, while service dogs are specifically trained to help. a person in their daily activities.

The program reaches residents of all demographics, from inpatients and long-term care residents to students and children with special needs.

“Everyone relies on therapy dogs,” says Kirkwood. “College and university students really appreciate dogs because many of them miss their pets at home or feel stressed. The hospital and almost all the nursing homes are also happy to see us again. The staff really enjoy it too. It has such a positive impact on all of our residents. »

Kirkwood says they need dogs now more than ever and are looking for people and dogs who love to volunteer and enjoy spending time with people.

“Almost any dog ​​that enjoys being around people, is comfortable being a pet, and likes to be the center of attention could be a great candidate for this type of job,” says -she. “There is no limit with the type of breed, it really depends on the temperament of your dog.”

St. John Ambulance takes care to ensure that each dog and handler is well prepared before going out into the community.

“We’re confident that passing dogs will do just fine in hospitals and long-term care homes,” she says.

Kirkwood hopes to have an orientation session in the new year, followed by assessments at the end of January – both located at the St. John Ambulance office on Second Line.

Placements are expected to take place in early March and assessments will take place every two to three months for new volunteers.

“Assessment involves common sense things you would want to see in a therapy dog ​​like straightforward obedience, walking well on a leash, being comfortable in environments with lots of people and being used to strange sounds,” says -she. “If the handler and dog are successful, we place them in a hospital or long-term care home where their visits are supervised in a mentorship setting.

“Once we put them at ease, we make sure they fit in well with the volunteer team and the facility, and if so, they leave,” she adds.

The program coordinator would like to remind interested dog owners not to be discouraged if they do not meet all the requirements to pass the course.

“We encourage people to go there with an open mind,” she says. “If they’re not successful, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a fantastic dog. They are simply not suited for this particular job. Every dog ​​is special.

Anyone interested in joining the program is invited to email [email protected] or call the local St. John Ambulance office at 705-945-1224.

Ryan H. Bowman