St. John Ambulance has some new therapy dogs for service in the Cariboo.
Six dog owners and their canine companions from Williams Lake and 100 Mile House completed certification on Saturday, March 25 at the 150 Mile House fire hall.
One of the new therapy dogs is three-year-old Arthur, a lab, poodle, spaniel cross.
His owner Diane Wright of Williams Lake said Arthur is specifically a therapy dog breed.
She bought him when he was 10-weeks-old to be a companion to her older dog, McDuff, 11.
“I had lost a dog and was hesitant but during COVID I realized my life is not full without a dog in my life so I got a puppy and I had lots of time to train him because I could not go anywhere.”
Diane has four grandchildren and some other children who have adopted her as their grandma so she wanted a family-friendly, easy going dog.
“I got exactly what I asked for,” she said of Arthur.
To train Arthur she accessed help from Alycia Rogual, a certified dog trainer in 150 Mile House.
“She was really good about helping me,” Diane said. “Over 18 months we worked with her for three different batches of sessions.”
Diane augmented the training with lots of socialization and Arthur became better and better at dealing with the busy nature of town.
Observing how Arthur reacted to people, Diane began to appreciate his ability to know who needed a dog’s attention.
Whether it was someone sitting outside the Salvation Army or one of her former students he was interacting with, she noticed he was consistent.
The “deal was sealed” when her granddaughter stayed overnight with her last summer.
“Not a morning person, she’d run out of the bedroom in the morning feeling grumpy,” Diane said. “Arthur would run and jump on the couch beside her and five minutes later she was herself and all happy.”
Realizing Arthur had a way of bringing joy to many people’s lives she decided maybe she needed to share him.
At around that time she saw a Facebook post from Karen Wright, the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog unit facilitator for Williams Lake and 100 Mile House, inviting dog owners to consider the program.
The training was “absolutely fantastic” and Karen was a “great support,” Diane said.
There are some therapy dog videos available on the St. John Ambulance YouTube channel that were also a big help.
After she watched the YouTube videos, she said she realized she and Arthur needed a bit more work.
Diane and Arthur visited some pet-friendly stores in Williams Lake such as Canadian Tire, Winners, Home Hardware and Rona who she said are welcoming to dogs that are behaving properly.
Arthur got used to crowds, shopping carts, strollers and strangers wanting to pet him or other people not wanting to have anything to do with him.
He knew he had to stay by Diane’s side unless she gave him permission.
“It was great practice and, of course, some of the children in the neighbourhood love to give him a big hug. They are little and not as gentle sometimes, but he was good. All those experiences were good interactions.”
Now that he is certified as a therapy dog they are waiting for her criminal record check and some other paper work.
Once that arrives they will go on two supervised visits to AgeCare Cariboo Place, a long-term senior care complex in Williams Lake.
“We have two supervised visits with Karen and she helps the dog and I and the staff to make sure we are following the protocols.”
Glad she embarked on the therapy dog route for Arthur, she said he needed a job.
“He’s a very smart dog and shouldn’t just be doing a make-work project.”
Karen said the next orientation/evaluation for therapy dogs will be in 2024.
Originally from Vancouver, Diane started her teaching career in Williams Lake and met her late husband Randy Wright during her first year of teaching.
Ten years ago she retired after being the superintendent for School District 27 for four years.
Aside from working with Arthur, and volunteering for Elder College, she enjoys spending time with her daughters Tianna and Shaylene and their families.
READ MORE: New therapy dogs ready to work in 100 Mile