St. John Ambulance therapy dogs take their visits online

Virtual 'pawsitive' therapy

If you're in need of a pick-me-up, St. John Ambulance has a ‘pawsitive’ idea for you as they take dog therapy virtual.

St. John Ambulance therapy dogs will be providing virtual canine comfort to those in need for Stress Awareness Day on April 16.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the charity’s four-legged volunteers visited facilities all over B.C.. but the pandemic forced the program to pause.

Molly, a golden retriever, is one of many therapy dogs ready with a Zoom account for the big day. Her handler, Shirley Earle, said it never gets old seeing the difference in mood from everyone that gets to meet Molly.

“Dogs give non-judgmental and unconditional love, and Molly demonstrates that wherever she goes. We miss our visits so much and we know all of the seniors we visited in the past miss their weekly comfort as well,” said Earle. “We know that nothing can replace the physical part of our visits, but I hope we can fill some of that void during this tough time with Molly’s virtual presence.”

St. John Ambulance's therapy dog program team has adapted to a one-day virtual model, "to provide the connection that so many people are craving and to raise funds for the program," says Anna Tilley with St. John Ambulance.

These 15-minute visits will give participants the chance to learn about the dogs, their therapy work and if you're lucky you might get to see the pups show off talents and tricks.

The latest survey done by the Canadian Mental Health Association indicates 42 per cent of British Columbians say their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic.

“The pause of visits is a loss both ways, for us and them. We’re glad we can find ways to still be there even if only through a screen. Dogs have the ability to bring positivity to their surroundings, and Penelope loves to make people smile,” said Ryan Ward who has used the service multiple times.

The virtual event will run on April 16, with 15-minute time slots available between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. "Anyone can book a visit, whether it’s one individual, a workplace team, or alongside family or friends," says Tilley.

You can set up a visit by making a donation to the therapy dog program.

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