“Please never stop doing what you do.”
This is the request made to Langley handler Ashten Black and her therapy dog PIG while they were visiting a burn unit pre-pandemic, and an ask Black says has always stuck with her.
“I wish I was eloquent enough to express the impact of this program,” she said. “This program should be everywhere; the support from the public would really help us to do that.”
The program Black refers to is the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program, which has been put on pause since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place that prevented in-person gatherings.
But Black is hoping that will change this summer. On Friday, Stress Awareness Day, the charitable organization is providing virtual canine comfort to those in need.
“What’s really lovely with dogs is that they can connect without the need for language,” she explained. “They’re so good at anticipating the emotional needs and doing it in a way that is very approachable.”
In the 15-minute visits, participants can expect to hear about the dog and their volunteer work, learn about the importance of dogs when it comes to mental health, and be able to ask questions or share their own stories.
Proceeds from the fundraiser will support the therapy dog program.
“People don’t realize that its volunteer,” Black noted.
It’s been over a year since the pandemic was declared, and frontline workers haven’t faltered. It is individuals in these high-stress circumstances who benefit most from therapy dogs like PIG, Black says, so it’s unfortunate they haven’t been able to meet them in-person.
“We know how important it’s going to be for us to be able to come back and visit in-person,” she said.
According to a survey done by the Canadian Mental Health Association, cited by St. John Ambulance, 42 per cent of British Columbians said that their mental health has deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. Interactions with therapy dogs have been proven to help decrease stress levels, loneliness, and simply provide moments of undistracted joy, according to the charity.
Pre-pandemic, PIG, who is named after the animal in the movie Babe, would visit places like hospitals, care homes, the 9-1-1 dispatch centre and libraries, where he encourages kids to read to him.
“PIG doesn’t judge, he just wants you to read to him,” Black said.
Black rescued the border-collie cross from a shelter in Whitehorse, Yukon. The pair have been working and volunteering together since 2018, only recently settling in Langley where they will cover the Langley, Surrey, Delta region.
“He’s very good at knowing when someone needs a little something more, and that’s not something I can teach him,” Black said about PIG.
Although Friday’s event will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Black encourages others interested in accessing their services to connect with the charity to learn more.
To book a virtual visit for Friday make a $10 or $20 donation to the therapy dog program at https://supportsja.ca/stress-awareness-day. After making a donation, an email will be sent to choose a time slot.
“He’s the magic at the end of a leash,” Black said about PIG.