Ther­apy dog helps se­niors

St. John Am­bu­lance holds train­ing ses­sion later this month

The Beacon (Gander) - - News - BY ADAM RAN­DELL

Hav­ing re­tired two years ago, Joe Sauliner and his com­mon law part­ner Brid­get Roberts wanted to find a way to give back to the place they call home – cen­tral New­found­land.

Liv­ing in Tri­ton, they be­came in­volved in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties, but near and dear to their heart is the St. John Am­bu­lance ther­apy dog pro­gram.

Along with their 72-pound golden doo­dle, Jax, Sauliner and Roberts re­ceived pro­gram cer­ti­fi­ca­tion through St. John Am­bu­lance two years ago and ev­ery Tues­day they can be found at the Val­ley Vista se­nior’s home in Spring­dale. They are in Grand Falls-Wind­sor ev­ery sec­ond week. At times Jax will visit Lake­side Homes in Gander as well.

Sauliner, who is a re­tired Gander RCMP of­fi­cer, said his daugh­ter Erin is in­volved with the pro­gram as well.

“When we de­cided to do this, she wanted to come on board as well,” he said. “We took the course to­gether, and when we’re away and can get the dog into Gander, she’ll take him around. He gets around a fair bit, but he re­ally does en­joy go­ing to the homes.”

It’s been well worth the ef­fort for the volunteers as well, ac­cord­ing to Roberts.

“It’s very ful­fill­ing and sat­is­fy­ing,” she said of the work. “You re­ally build a re­la­tion­ship with the peo­ple you visit, and most peo­ple re­spond well to Jax, even hav­ing spe­cial treats for him.”

Up­com­ing train­ing

St. John Am­bu­lance will be hold­ing an­other train­ing ses­sion in Gander later this month.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 16 ther­apy dog volunteers in­volved with the pro­gram pro­vid­ing ser­vice in Gander, Grand Falls Wind­sor, Bot­wood and Spring­dale.

Roberta He­witt, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­nity re­la­tions with St. John Am­bu­lance says the ther­apy dog pro­gram brings love and com­pan­ion­ship to those who may need it the most.

Pet com­pan­ion­ship can re­sult in nu­mer­ous health ben­e­fits, such as re­duc­ing stress, low­er­ing blood pres­sure, calm­ing the dis­tressed, com­fort­ing the de­spon­dent and dis­tract­ing the pain-rid­den.

“We are proud that our ther­apy dogs visit at long-term care fa­cil­i­ties and hos­pi­tals in Cen­tral NL and we are very in­ter­ested in see­ing the pro­gram ex­pand in this re­gion,” she said. “To fa­cil­i­tate that, we have sched­uled an ori­en­ta­tion and eval­u­a­tion for in­ter­ested dog own­ers for late April.”

Sauliner called the process of be­com­ing a dog ther­apy vol­un­teer fairly rea­son­able.

It re­quires volunteers to have se­cu­rity clear­ance and par­take in a one-day course.

“The course sim­u­lates a lot of peo­ple touch­ing the dog, loud noises, peo­ple in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments,” he said. “When you go into a home you don’t know what you’re go­ing to en­counter, and you need to have a dog that is ca­pa­ble of han­dling that.”

For more in­for­ma­tion or to reg­is­ter for the ori­en­ta­tion and eval­u­a­tion com­ing up on April 20-21 in Gander, please con­tact ther­a­py­


For the past two years Joe Sauliner, Brid­get Roberts and Jax have been volunteers with the St. John Am­bu­lance ther­apy dog pro­gram.

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