“Please never stop doing what you are doing.”
This is the inquiry made to Langley dog handler Ashten Black and her therapy dog PIG when they were visiting a pre-pandemic burn unit, and a question Black says has stayed with her.
“I wish I were eloquent enough to express the effects of this program,” she said. “This program should be everywhere; Public support would really help us with that. “
The program Black is referring to is the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, which has been suspended since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced that prevented face-to-face meetings.
But Schwarz hopes that will change this summer. On Friday, stress awareness day, the non-profit organization offers virtual dog comfort to those in need.
“What is really nice about dogs is that they can connect without language,” she explained. “You are so good at anticipating the emotional needs and doing so in a way that is very accessible.”
During the 15-minute visits, attendees can expect to learn about the dog and their volunteering, the importance of dogs to mental health, and ask questions or share their own stories.
READ MORE: St. John Ambulance provides “pawsitive” support at virtual therapy dog events
The proceeds from the fundraiser will support the therapy dog program.
“People don’t know it’s a volunteer,” remarked Black.
It’s been over a year since the pandemic was declared and frontline workers haven’t stalled. It is people in these stressful circumstances who benefit most from therapy dogs like PIG, Black says. So it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t meet her in person.
“We know how important it will be for us to be able to come back in person,” she said.
According to a Canadian Mental Health Association poll quoted by St. John Ambulance, 42 percent of British Columbians said their mental health has deteriorated since the pandemic started. Interactions with therapy dogs have been shown to help reduce stress and loneliness and simply provide moments of undisturbed joy, according to the charity.
Before the pandemic, PIG, named after the animal in the movie Babe, visited places like hospitals, nursing homes, the 9-1-1 shipping center, and libraries where he encourages children to read to him.
“PIG is not judging, he just wants you to read to him,” Black said.
Black rescued the border collie cross from an animal shelter in Whitehorse, Yukon. The couple have been volunteering and working together since 2018 and recently settled in Langley where they will cover the Langley, Surrey, Delta area.
“He’s very good at knowing when someone needs something more and I can’t teach him that,” Black said of PIG.
Although the event takes place on Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Schwarz encourages other interested parties to access their services, contact the charity to learn more.
To book a virtual visit for Friday, donate $ 10 or $ 20 to the therapy dog program at https://supportsja.ca/stress-awareness-day. After a donation, an email will be sent to select a time slot.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.supportsja.ca/therapydogs
“He’s the magic on the end of a leash,” Black said of PIG.
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