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Central Okanagan  

Therapy dogs make a difference

Over 120 Okanagan dog handlers, with 114 faithful pups, spend more than 11,000 hours a year making a difference in the lives of those who need a furry friend.

The local dogs are all members of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program which has over 500 registered Therapy Dogs in BC that visit care homes, senior facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools, universities, colleges, community centres and libraries across the province.

“It is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” says Liz McKinney – Therapy Dog Handler with Rufus the Golden-Doodle. “And that is all because of Rufus, he is a magical thing, he is just amazing.”

In order to participate in the program each Therapy Dog and their handler must go through stringent screening. The Therapy Dogs participate in temperament and suitability testing as well as background checks are performed on the handlers before they are allowed to make their first visits.

She says the dogs make a massive impact on the lives of many in the Okanagan, something she has now witnessed first-hand.

“You should see him in action! It is like he connects with everyone differently. He knows the people that want him to jump on their bed, he knows the people that he needs to be slow with. It is pretty amazing,” shared McKinney. “I come out of there every day completely uplifted because just one little dog, well one big dog, is just magic. I don't do much, he does it all.”

To keep the program running, St. John Ambulance must fundraise for their doggy efforts and this year they are hoping local residents will add a 2015 limited edition Therapy Dog calendar to their shopping list.

“All the funds will stay in the community where they're raised and will go to the Therapy Dog Program and other programs through St. John Ambulance,” explains McKinney.

"Having been a handler myself, I have witnessed the impact a dog's unconditional affection and companionship can have on someone that is isolated, and it's beyond words. Our goal with the calendar is to help to spread the message,” adds St. John Ambulance Director of Marketing, BC & Yukon and Therapy Dog handler, René Bernstein.

“The calendar will help keep this program alive, and the proceeds will support our other volunteer-based community services like our Youth Programs, School Programs, and Volunteer First Response Services and Emergency Response teams.”

If you are interested in grabbing a wall calendar, desk calendar, bookmark or stickers you can drop by the local St. John Ambulance locations in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton.

You can also purchase all the items online through their website here.

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