Walking up the steps to the second floor at the London Public Library, Jake and his volunteer Jenny Hauser greeted locals with smiles and tail wags. The two are a therapy dog team from St. John’s Ambulance, taking part in a summer initiative.
Jenny Hauser is the Assistant Coordinator of the Therapy Dog program at St. John’s Ambulance, and has been involved in some capacity for almost a decade.
“Petting a dog cheers you up, it just makes you feel good. So that automatically will sort of induce those feel good chemicals in your brain, like dopamine, serotonin, that make you feel better.”
Jake is one of almost 100 dogs apart of the program that regularly visit people across the London-Middlesex area. They have scheduled stops at nursing homes and longterm care facilities where residents look forward to the visit each week.
“Dogs have shown very therapeutic for different mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression,” says Hauser.
Hauser adds that people at nursing homes often suffer from isolation, and the interaction with the therapy dog and its volunteer owner tend to bring them out of their shell and engage more.
Recently, they’ve begun to visit Western University and Fanshawe College campuses more. Hauser says that a big factor is the age at which students are now attending postsecondary, in some cases as young as 17 years old.
“A big part of what we do is visiting students. We’re finding that some of these kids are not equipped emotionally to be away from home that early. Pet therapy is just one of the wellness initiatives that the university and colleges are doing now to help.”
The dogs are typically owned by a volunteer who believe that their dog fits the therapy dog description. Calm, even tempered and friendly with all humans, and other animals is a must. The dogs and volunteers have orientation and some obedience training to complete. Hauser says obedience training depends strictly on the dog, some need a lot and others are able to skip it completely. The dog is then evaluated by St. John’s Ambulance before they embark on their happy ways.