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Virtual therapy dog event to provide ‘pawsitive’ support for Stress Awareness Day

The dogs are provided by St. John Ambulance to bring a moment of comfort and joy to anyone who may need it during these tough times
St. John's Ambulance virtual therapy dog
St. John's Ambulance is offering Zoom calls with therapy dogs to bring a moment of comfort for this Stress Awareness Day.

What they lack in way of opposable thumbs, they more than make up for in their abilities to give us a brief respite from the stresses of our daily lives. 

It is on that principle that this month, thanks to St. John Ambulance, you can hop on a Zoom call with a therapy dog to get some virtual canine comfort. Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the charity’s four-legged volunteers visited hospitals, care homes, schools, workplaces, and more on a weekly basis. Now that those visits are on pause, the therapy dog program has adapted to an online setting. 

The event is being held April 16 on Stress Awareness Day and Molly, a golden retriever, is more than ready.

Molly has been with 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,” said Earle in a recent press 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.”

During the 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 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.

Ryan Ward has seen that effect firsthand over the two years he has volunteered with St. John Ambulance with his therapy dog Penelope. 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 16, with the 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. 

The virtual visits costs a $10 or $20 donation to the therapy dog program. For more information check out St. John Ambulance’s website.