Bringing a moment of joy to the community.
That is the mission of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. It comforts thousands of people across Canada every day, and recently it added Okanagan COVID-19 vaccine clinics to its list.
“Anywhere people might be feeling stressed depressed or lonely,” said Faye Anstey, Kelowna Unit Facilitator. “We visit with our own dogs, and I take my dog, Cooper. We go to hospitals and when we’re allowed we go into care homes. We also visit schools, libraries, and now the vaccine clinics.”
Anstey took over the Kelowna program in the summer and started visiting Vernon clinics in October last year. It then expanded to Lake Country and Kelowna, proving to be a huge success, especially with children.
“We’ve managed to help some of the kids that are getting vaccines because they’re nervous about needles and it’s scary,” she said. “If they have the dog there to pet it’s a lot easier for them.”
The dogs also hang out with people having to wait 15 minutes after getting a vaccine.
“We go around and sit with people,” said Anstey. “They pet the dogs and we chat about the program or their dogs. It brightens their day.”
Anstey added the response has been positive and staff at the clinics appreciate the visits as well.
Dogs make the visits with their owners in tow. There is a certification program for the dogs and the owners are also assessed.
“We provide a few situations and make sure our handlers are well equipped and mature enough to deal with certain situations that they might come upon during visits, explained Anstey.”
She started with the program six years ago with a Great Dane. Now, it’s Cooper the Labradoodle, who’s been in the program for about a year.
“I feel they have a job they really like,” said Anstey. “I pull out the little St. John scarf and they get really excited because they know they’re going to work.”
Anstey added the reward for her is seeing the smile on people’s faces.
“Especially when we go to care homes and hospitals and see people who may not get visitors,” she said. “We get to hear stories about their lives and the dogs they’ve had, it’s really heart-warming.”
Groups or facilities interested in having a visit from a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, or individuals interested in having their dog certified for the program can contact Anstey by emailing KelownaTDP@SJABCY.ca.