I write this nomination, not as a recipient of services, but as a volunteer whose life has been profoundly impacted by involvement in this program. In 2019 the London Middlesex St John Ambulance Therapy Dog program celebrates 25 years of service to the community and I have proudly been involved for over half those years. During my involvement I have had three different canine partners and I have donated over eight thousand volunteer hours to the program – I don’t say this for accolades, but to demonstrate the value I place on this program.
In 2006 I joined the SJA Therapy Dog program with my dog, Sierra, hoping to brighten the lives of nursing home residents. I immediately witnessed the bond that residents formed with Sierra: people who couldn’t remember details of their lives would somehow remember what day Sierra came to visit and they would anxiously be awaiting her arrival. And while many couldn’t remember where they were or what year it was they would remember stories of dogs that were part of their past and eagerly share those stories. For many of the people we (the dog and I as a team) visited, we were the only ones visiting, for some she was the only interaction that brought a smile to their face and the only one who heard a whispered “I love you.”
Over eleven years ago, because of my own experience on these visits, I did not hesitate in taking over the role of Coordinator in this entirely volunteer administered program. I wanted to play a role in making the program grow so that more people could share in and benefit from the experience. I truly believe that the volunteers that participate in this program benefit from the experience just as much as the individuals we visit so it is a win-win for all involved.
In addition to serving the sick, the elderly and the isolated, the program plays an integral role in mental health awareness and support within the community. In addition to visiting nursing homes, long term care facilities and hospitals, our volunteers serve hospice, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, Ronald McDonald House, youth detention center, group homes, family support services, respite programs, victim services, Western University, Fanshawe College, area elementary and high schools – it is a constantly growing list. In 2018 the London Middlesex SJA Therapy Dog volunteers logged well over 3000 visits in the community representing close to ten thousand volunteer hours. But the impact of the program is not measured in those numbers. It is measured in the smiles we see, the memories that are shared, the whispered words of endearment, and in the number of times we hear “this is the best part of my week.”
The SJA Therapy Dog program is entirely dependent upon fundraising and donations. Funds generated by this award would cover overhead expenses of the program thereby allowing volunteers to focus more time on providing service to the community.
Learn more about St John Ambulance London Middlesex Therapy Dog Program