Karen Wright and her two dogs, Sophie and Molly. The dogs are certified therapy dogs, and make weekly visits to seniors centres and schools. Submitted photo.

St. John Ambulance looking to expand therapy dog program to 100 Mile area

Any dog breed can be evaluated and certified

The St. John Ambulance service is looking to certify more therapy dogs in the South Cariboo.

Karen Wright and her two dogs, Molly and Sophie, are currently the only team certified by the service between Kamloops and Williams Lake.

Both of the two dogs, based in 150 Mile House, take turns going to a senior’s village in Williams Lake for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday.

“They bring a lot of comfort and joy to seniors because a lot of them don’t get regular visitors. Even if they get family, it’s not the same as being able to pet the dog,” Wright said.

“There are studies saying it actually brings down their stress level and even their blood pressure just by petting the dog.”

Molly, the younger of the two dogs, is also certified to go to schools and libraries to sit with kids. After a visit to the senior’s village, Molly is often taken to a Williams Lake school, and she also spends an hour at the library on Wednesdays. Sophie is in the process of being certified to work with children.

RELATED: 150 Mile House resident helps expand therapy dog program in the Cariboo

Molly and Sophie have a full schedule, so Wright said more therapy dogs are needed to bring similar service to facilities in 100 Mile House, such as Fischer Place, the hospital and area schools.

“The [Kamloops Division] are hoping to get more teams out this way, 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, and creating a small unit for in between,” said Wright, who had booths set up at last year’s South Cariboo Summer Festival and at Williams Lake’s Harvest Fair.

She said about eight people signed up at the festival and fair to go through the certification process. Only four of them, including one woman from 108 Mile, actually committed to it.

Wright also said she currently has seven people interested, including two from the 100 Mile area.

“People think their dog is friendly, then they go through all these scenarios where somebody will approach a dog with crutches, an IV pole or a wheelchair,” she said. “Dogs can’t show fear and all of the sudden pull on their leash and take off.”

She said instructors have also draped big wool blankets over their bodies behind a closed door to test would-be therapy dogs. They then let the dog in with their handler to see how the dog reacts.

A favourable reaction would be what Molly did, which was just lifting the blanket to check it out. An unfavourable reaction would be barking, growling or cowering, due to the safety of the dog and seniors who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Basically, what is looked for is a dog that genuinely likes to visit people and have a calm, friendly demeanour.

A potential therapy dog must be a minimum of one year of age, ideally two, must not be on a raw food diet and must have a full spectrum of vaccinations. They must also be good in confined, busy and/or active spaces and be comfortable walking without pulling.

For more information, visit the St. John Ambulance Community Services website or by emailing volunteer@bc.sja.ca.


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