Therapy dog program promotes good mental health

By Julie Williams

Is your dog calm, patient, sociable and enjoy the company of children and seniors? Then, perhaps, consider having your pooch evaluated to become a valuable member of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. Therapy dog services are provided in hospitals, seniors’ homes, community centres, libraries, schools and universities, particularly, providing stress relief during exam periods. The dogs are also used as part of victim services, as a calming and comforting presence for people that have to testify in court.

“Currently we have approximately 165 therapy dog teams with only about 35 teams being child tested,” said Bob Darlington, who coordinates all therapy dog orientations and evaluations in York Region. “For the demands that we are currently experiencing we could use at least three times the number of teams that we currently have.”

Orientations and evaluations are scheduled every two months, with the next sessions scheduled on Nov. 17 and 24.

Nancy Brouillard, who works in the health-care industry and volunteers with the therapy dog program, has witnessed its many benefits.

“It supports good mental health by relieving stress,” she says.

Her favourite, the Paws 4 Stories Program, helps children who are struggling readers.

“There have been huge improvements in their reading and confidence,” said Brouillard. “Where, before, the child wouldn’t read aloud in class, they’ve gained confidence by reading to the dog. There’s no judgment or fear of making mistakes.”

And not only the young benefit. For those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, visits can stimulate communication.

“Spending time with the therapy dogs brings back fond memories of owning a dog,” explains Brouillard. “Then they’ll start to speak about it.”

For more information on becoming a volunteer with the program, email Bob Darlington at [email protected] or visit

St. John Ambulance will be hosting the first annual Furry Friends 5K charity event at Angus Glen Golf Club on Nov. 3. Funds raised will help support local animal rescue organizations, shelters and humane groups. For more information visit

Main photo:  Owner Chris Short and his dog Seamus are welcomed to the program by evaluator, Nancy Brouillard, after successfully passing the therapy dog evaluation. Julie Williams photos

A senior enjoys a one-on-one visit from therapy dog, Marlowe.



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