St. John Ambulance therapy dog volunteer Ashley Desautels and her therapy dog Beau. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

St. John Ambulance therapy dog volunteer Ashley Desautels and her therapy dog Beau. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

St. John Ambulance providing ‘pawsitive’ support with virtual therapy dog event

With hospital, care home and school visits on hold, service finds another way to connect

Nothing relieves stress better than a visit from our furry best friends.

St. John Ambulance recognizes that and so on April 16, their therapy dogs will be providing virtual canine comfort to those in need for Stress Awareness Day.

RELATED: Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Pre-pandemic, the charity’s four-legged volunteers visited facilities in B.C. such as hospitals, care homes, schools, workplaces, and more on a weekly basis. While these visits are still on pause, the 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.

Molly, a golden retriever, is one of the many dogs ready with her Zoom account for the big day. She has been a therapy dog since November 2018 and specializes in visiting senior residences and workplaces such as law firms. 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.”

In the 15-minute visits, participants can expect to hear about the dog and their volunteer work, learn about the importance of dogs when it comes to mental health, be able to ask questions or share their own stories, and maybe even watch the pup show off some talents and tricks.

According to a survey done by the Canadian Mental Health Association, 42 per cent of British Columbians said that their mental health has deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. Interactions with therapy dogs have been proven to help decrease stress levels, loneliness, and simply provide moments of undistracted joy.

RELATED: Working women report poor mental health, with stress higher among working moms: poll

Ryan Ward has seen that effect firsthand through his visits with his therapy dog Penelope, a mini goldendoodle. They have volunteered with St. John Ambulance for over two years and regularly visited the Windermere Care Centre and have supported various therapy dog community events. Whether it’s helping distract care home staff from a long day, providing companionship to seniors, or bringing smiles to a workplace, Ward said it’s incredible to watch the calming effect Penelope has on people.

“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 Ward.

The virtual event will run on April 16th, 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. To book a visit, make a $10 or $20 donation to the therapy dog program at https://supportsja.ca/stress-awareness-day. After making a donation, an email will be sent to choose a time slot.

RELATED: Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

(Delta Police Department photo)
Police remind residents to lock doors and windows after series of Ladner break-and-enters

Warning issued after trio of incidents on Ferry Road and Frigate in the early hours of May 6

Serena Deol, Jaspreet Deol, Madison Sweeney and Tanveer Pannu (pictured clockwise from top left) are Surrey United soccer players recruited to the University of Fraser Valley. (submitted photos)
Surrey United soccer quartet sign to play for UFV Cascades

Three of the university’s recruits are Panorama Ridge Secondary students

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Dr. Bonnie Henry B.C.'s provincial health officer, updates the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
Province ‘ramping up’ COVID-19 vaccination effort in hard-hit Surrey

‘Door-to-door’ registration program in the works, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read