A healthy touch
Therapy dog program comes to Yellowknife

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - Contrary to what you may think, the therapy dog program is not about giving therapy to dogs, it's about dogs helping people.

Yellowknife will soon have an its own therapy dog program, thanks to Carol Newhouse.

Newhouse is the co-ordinator of the program, sponsored by St. John Ambulance and the Canadian Mental Health Association. And although she has been doing the program randomly for years now, this is the first time it will be official.

The therapy dog program involves specially tested dogs who visit various groups in the community. The target groups include those who will benefit from regular dog visits, as it has been shown that some people do experience a lot of relaxation from touching and petting a dog.

"When I spoke to the people at Aven Manor, they were really eager to get involved in this," says Newhouse. "I have been visiting with my therapy dog Fraggle randomly, but they like the idea of something regular." And that's just what the program is all about.

Volunteers are needed to visit Aven Manor once a week or every two weeks. An interested dog owner will need to bring their therapy candidate to St. John Ambulance for an temperament test, not to be confused with an obedience test, on Saturday, Oct. 2.

"If the dog passes the test and the owner is interested, we set up times for them to visit the centre.

"Some dogs will just sit on people's laps and others will do tricks, and a lot of people get a kick out of that. It really makes their day."

It's important that the visits are regular though, since, according to Newhouse, the people at the centre really look forward to it, and can be disappointed if no one shows up. As for the evaluation, Nancy Clay, chief evaluator for the B.C. area and a volunteer with St. John Ambulance, is flying up from Vancouver to do some evaluating as well as train others how to do it. In the future, Newhouse hopes to expand the program.

"I want to get into the hospital and also visit with kids in day cares and schools as well. After the dogs have been visiting for one year in this program, they can take a different evaluation to enable them to visit with kids.

"I think it's important to expose the kids to dogs so they aren't afraid of them," says Newhouse. The size and breed of dog used doesn't matter, as some people enjoy a lap dog while others like having a larger dog by their side to pet.

And hey, the owners get a sweatshirt to wear while the dogs get a little bandana indicating they are therapy dogs.