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Dogged efforts earn Salmon Arm volunteer Order of St. John

Joyce Polley logged 8,740 hours with the St. John’s ambulance dog therapy program

Joyce Polley knows all about cold noses, warm hearts through her longtime work with the St. John Ambulance (SJA) dog therapy program, for which she recently received a prestigious award.

On Jan. 11, Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin presented the Order of St. John to a number of volunteers with the organization, though Polley was unable to make it to Victoria for the ceremony at that time. Another SJA member accepted the award on her behalf, and presented it to Polley in a surprise ceremony at the Shuswap Lodge on Sunday, April 7, with extended family, friends and other volunteers there to celebrate her accomplishment.

“It is a very special award, it really is,” she said of the honour, which includes a medal and certificate, and is just one of five national orders in the Canadian Honours System, which also includes the Order of Canada, Order of Military Merit, Order of Merit of the Police Forces and the Royal Victorian Order.

Admission into the Order is based on merit and the nominee’s quantity and quality of work, volunteer service and sustained involvement and commitment to SJA. Polley, who is only the second person in Salmon Arm to get this recognition, fits the bill as she accumulated 8,740 hours of volunteer time over approximately 10 years with the therapy program.

Her journey with St. John Ambulance began because of a golden retriever who was very gentle and just had a quality about him.

“I didn’t know anything about therapy dogs, but I just thought this dog was sort of special,” she said of going through the training with him. “It was a learning experience for me too. It was entirely new, I’d never done anything like that.”

While that dog never actually did get put to work, Polley stayed with the program with her labradoodle Moby, and the duo became a very well-known at hospitals, seniors care facilities and schools. She added that the handler and dog both help individuals in their own ways, and really work together to comfort people.

“It’s different than having a pet, the dog is truly your partner,” she said, adding that together they help bring comfort. “It’s not just the number of hours you put in, but the quality of what you’re doing. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing, providing that emotional support, that nurturing.”

Polley added that while it’s rewarding, it can also be difficult as they deal with terminal patients and grieving families, whoever needs them.

“It can be hard on us… because it’s very emotional,” she admitted. “Everyone coming to the hospital is stressed.”

There are also, however, the cases that have happy endings that reaffirm what they do.

Polley recalled one young man who was from out of town and recovering from an car accident alone in hospital on Christmas Day. They found him crying in his room, and Moby immediately went to cuddle him. When they ran into him again a few weeks later as he was being discharged, he gave Moby and hug and said, “you saved my life.”

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About the Author: Heather Black

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