Six new therapy dog teams joined the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program on July 30 after passing their evaluation in Yarmouth. There are now 20 teams in the Yarmouth area.
Earlier this year the program lost three teams due to retirement of the teams, sometimes because of death or illness.
Robert Howlett, manager of community services for St. John Ambulance NS/PEI, says there is and always will be, a need for therapy dog teams in our communities.
“The rise of alternative medicines within healthcare shows that programs like our therapy dog program do play a big part in providing meaningful engagement to the clients in healthcare facilities, schools, airport, and anywhere else you could imagine someone might benefit from the love and affection of a dog," Howlett says.
Teams visit Nakile, St. Joseph Villa du Lac, the Yarmouth General Hospital and the Meadows amongst others. In addition, they visit, on special occasions, the VON and NSCC in Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne. They also attend special events such as the Fisheries Exhibition to promote public awareness and hold dog mobs at various places.
Special events are planned at Yarmouth Heights on Aug. 14 where a number of teams will be attending to visit this facility that does not have a team regularly attending for visits. There will also be a display at PetValu in Yarmouth on Sept. 7 to promote public awareness of the program and encourage potential new applicants.
Dogs must exhibit calmness during the exam and Howlett says that can sometimes cause concern to owners.
“I think the anticipation of any of the exercises (loud noise, group engagement etc.) is always intimidating to owners because the exercise is not part of their dog’s normal day to day life. “We test in situations that the teams might encounter in a healthcare facility to ensure they are safe in all situations and settings.”
St. John therapy trained dogs have been in Nova Scotia since 1999. Yarmouth and the South West Nova Scotia teams have a special connection to the program, says Howlett, and have great leadership to encourage participation and engagement with the program.
“We’re very proud with the work that our teams do in this area of Nova Scotia,” he says.
He adds that St. John Ambulance is one of the world’s oldest charities with the proceeds from courses and kit sales supporting volunteer programs in communities.
Therapy dog teams are supplied with their uniforms and ID’s to be part of the program. Volunteers are responsible for securing their own police record with a vulnerable sector check and their annual veterinarian certificate. The only out-of-pocket cost associated with the application to become a therapy dog handler arises from the requirement of the program that therapy dogs be disease-free. This requires certification from a veterinarian and for that there is a charge.
As a former handler, program participant Brian Colli says he can say the costs, which are incurred annually to remain in the program, are greatly outweighed by the feeling of accomplishment in visiting the communities’ "most vulnerable citizens."
"As I advised other handlers, I was paid by the smiles that lit up the faces of residents when they greeted my therapy dog – residents who smiled too infrequently," he says.
The next evaluation for potential dog teams will likely be in May unless enough teams are secured to schedule one sooner.
Newest team members
1. Deborah Cook and Nalah, a Havanese, of Brooklyn
2. Marsha Deveau and Marla, a Golden Retriever, of Wellington
3. Lucille Doucette and Macy, a Shihtsu Yorkie, of Wedgeport
4. Vicki Munroe and Gibson, a Retriever/poodle, of Saulnierville
5. Linda Smith and Ralph, a border collie, of South Ohio.
6. Gordon Thompson and Lola, a Newfoundland/Bernese, of Yarmouth
BY THE WAY
In 2017, Martha Cassidy, St. John Ambulance therapy dog team leader for the tri-counties, with her standard poodle Walker, were awarded the Therapy Dog Team of the Year for Nova Scotia from the N.S./P.E.I. branch of St. John Ambulance.