St. John Ambulance therapy dogs Penelope, Burke and Pig on a Zoom call. (Contributed photo)

St. John Ambulance therapy dogs Penelope, Burke and Pig on a Zoom call. (Contributed photo)

Virtual therapy-dog visits aim to bring ‘pawsitivity’ on Stress Awareness Day

April 16 event raises funds for St. John Ambulance program

The St. John Ambulance therapy-dog program may be on hold due to the pandemic, but plans are in place to bring some ‘pawsitivity’ to those who need it on Stress Awareness Day.

On April 16, four-legged volunteers will be available for some virtual comfort, through a one-day model developed “to provide the connection that so many people are craving and raise funds for the program.”

According to a news release, dogs like Molly, a golden retriever, and Penelope, a mini goldendoodle, will be available for 15-minute Zoom visits by donation.

Both dogs have been St. John Ambulance volunteers for more than two years. Molly specializes in visiting senior residences and workplaces such as law firms, and her handler Shirley Earle said it never gets old seeing the difference in mood in everyone that gets to meet her.

“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,” Earle said in the release.

“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.”

Penelope and her handler Ryan Ward, pre-pandemic, visited a care home to offer staff a distraction and provide senior residents with companionship. They also supported various therapy-dog community events.

Ward lauded Penelope’s calming effect.

“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.

Dog-team volunteers have also visited residents of White Rock’s Peace Arch Hospital complex in years past, including the Dr. Al Hogg Pavilion.

READ MORE: Therapy dogs give patients paws for good health

During the 15-minute visits on April 16, 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,” the release states.

The event will run from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. Anyone interested in booking a visit is asked to make a $10 or $20 donation to the therapy dog program at supportsja.ca/stress-awareness-day, after which an email will be sent to book a time slot.

For more information, email bcy.fundraising@sja.ca or call 604-321-2652, ext. 2721.

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