Dog owners urged to volunteer for St. John Ambulance program

St. John Ambulance wants to expand its therapy dog program in New Brunswick and is looking for more dog owners to volunteer.

Organization wants to expand therapy program that sees dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes to boost spirits

St. John Ambulance is looking for more dog owners to volunteer to help expand its dog therapy program across New Brunswick.

Under the program, dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes and other locations to provide companionship to those in need.

St. John Ambulance volunteer Dave McLellan says his dog Lucy brings joy to people's lives. (Cherise Letson/CBC)
"It brightens up the day of somebody who might be feeling very isolated or very lonely," said Donna Clark, community services manager for St. John Ambulance.

"Sometimes we visit with people who don't get any other visitors but the dog. And then the dog really is a nonjudgmental, just a comforting thing. So they will pet the dog and it really is a stress reliever for them," she said.

There's currently a wait list of five places seeking therapy dogs and there are others looking for more, said Clark.

Dave McLellan says it's "very rewarding to be a handler" with the program.

He has experienced first-hand the impact his dog Lucy has on people's lives during the past five years of volunteering together.

"To see all the people cheer up and smile, talk and laugh," he said.

Volunteers must agree to a firm time commitment and their dogs must be friendly and well-behaved, said Clark.

She says it's easy to sign up as a volunteer and St. John Ambulance provides the required training.

The therapy dog program started in 1992 as a pilot program in Peterborough, Ont. Today, nearly 3,000 therapy dogs reach thousands annually, according to the St. John Ambulance.