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Dogs That Make a Difference

Left to Right to Bottom: Annie the gentle Golden Retriever; Rex gets cuddles from Helen; Trinket and Geordie hang out with their handlers.

Aside from cuddling your favourite stuffed animal, nothing brings as much pleasure as petting a dog. So you can imagine how excited we were when we heard the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs (and their owners!) were stopping by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Ontario.

Therapy Dogs are special volunteer canines that visit schools, hospitals, seniors’ residences, community centres and libraries to bring joy, comfort and unconditional love to people in need. We could tell these dogs were on-duty because they were either wearing white St. John Ambulance handkerchiefs around their neck or bright red St. John Ambulance doggie jackets that read, “Please Pet Me”.

Please Pet MeVia Cheryl Sliz

While we petted the dogs, several owners told us stories about their visits to various places. They said some people make such a strong connection to the dogs that they easily remember their furry friend’s name every time they visit!

During a Therapy Dog visit, you are able to play, pet, cuddle and talk to the dog. You can even have them do tricks such as “high-five” or shake a paw. In one special program, “Paws for Stories,” young children can read to their four-legged pooch pal.

Carl Dixon, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator and handler to Izak, explains that when Therapy Dogs visit schools, the most important topic he discusses is dog safety. “These dogs are wonderfully friendly, but a lot of dogs aren’t,” says Dixon.

Here’s are a few easy steps to approach a dog:

  1. Ask the owner if it’s ok to pet their dog.
  2. Hold a closed fist in front of the dog’s nose so it can sniff you.
  3. Then pet the dog under their chin, so you can feel the warning sign in case the dog growls.

The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program started in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1992, and has grown into nearly 3,000 Therapy Dog teams.