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RECYCLED LOVE: Therapy program offers bonding time for owners and their dogs

Sheena recently became a graduate of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.
Sheena recently became a graduate of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program. - Contributed

If you are looking for a creative activity to include your dog in, I would strongly recommend the Therapy Dog Program. Not only do you get to spend quality time with your dog, but you also get the benefit of volunteering in your community.

A wealth of information is available about the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program online at www.sja.ca, or you can call the provincial office in Dartmouth at 1-800-565-5056. The original program started in Ontario in 1992, and as of 2015, they had over 3,300 volunteers across Canada visiting hospitals, care facilities, retirement homes, universities and schools.

There is minimal paperwork to complete to enter the program. There is also an evaluation evening or afternoon which you and your dog attend. Volunteers with the therapy dog program can walk you through the paperwork, and they will also prepare you for the evaluation test.

Over the past seven years, three of my dogs have eagerly participated in the program.

Please understand your dog does not have to be perfectly obedient to join, but your dog must enjoy people. Last week I attended an evaluation afternoon with my recently adopted rescue dog. There were five people, including me, being evaluated, and I was ecstatic to discover four of the dogs were rescues.

I was not sure if Sheena would pass the evaluation, but she is adorable and friendly, so I thought I would at least give it our best effort. I spoke with the volunteers involved in the program many times before I committed to having her tested. We agreed to have Sheena and myself arrive last, and we would be situated by the door in case it was too much for Sheena. Please understand Sheena is blind, and I do everything possible to ensure she is safe, but I also want her to live a full and rewarding life. If she did not pass the evaluation, I knew my love and devotion for her would not change. She is a remarkable dog and people who meet her find her inspiring and of course, incredibly cute.

I am thrilled and proud to report Sheena did pass her testing, and she is now a Therapy Dog. I cried when she passed, and so did some of the volunteers. Sheena is happiest when she is meeting people, and they give her tons of loving attention. I agreed with the volunteers when they said Sheena would excel at visiting colleges, universities and schools. I look forward to sharing this experience with Sheena as it is now her time to have a happy life, especially since her previous life was so horrific.

If you own a dog that loves the company of people, I encourage you to enter the program. I believe you will find the experience fulfilling, entertaining and priceless. It is a beautiful way to give back to your community and to also spend quality time with your dog.

Please be kind to animals.

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