Joyce Polley sees a growing need for therapeutic canine companionship in the Shuswap.
Facilitator of the local St. John Ambulance therapy dog program, Polley hopes a post-Christmas recruiting drive will draw enough interest to certify some therapy dogs in Salmon Arm.
In the past, those interested in getting their dogs certified as therapy dogs through St. John Ambulance had to bring them to Kamloops. Potential therapy dogs are screened in groups of eight to 10 to demonstrate they can be calm and respond to commands in a variety of situations. Dogs being evaluated have to interact with people in wheelchairs, and be calm when they are offered treats and toys. Polley said the task that results in the most failed certification attempts is one where the dog is asked not interact with another service dog as the handlers have a conversation.
Polley meets with the owners and assesses their dog’s suitability for work as a therapy dog before they attempt the certification. The Piccadilly complex care home lets Polley bring dogs she has confidence in prior to the test to allow them to practice in a care home environment. Polley said once the dog gets its certification she often brings it back into the care home for a graduation ceremony of sorts. She also does further work with the dogs and their owners.
Polley said there are currently four handlers with certified therapy dogs working on a steady schedule in Shuswap care homes and other settings, and four more who are also certified.
According to Polley, one aspect which many people who wish to get their dogs certified for therapy do not understand is the time commitment involved. Once the dog is certified, handlers are asked to put in at least an hour working in a care home each week.
In the new year, Polley hopes to recruit enough new dogs and handlers so they can bring an evaluator to Salmon Arm to get them certified. Polley said doing so would also allow already certified therapy dogs to receive an added designation allowing them to work with elementary school students. New handlers have to work with adults for a full year before they can begin working with kids
“If we can get some of these folks certified for children, then our horizons are widened.”
Only Moby, Polley’s Labradoodle, is currently certified to work with kids. She said kids are required to participate in the certification and it can be a great experience for them as well. Along with Moby, Polley also has a Rottweiler-Bull mastiff cross named Bo who is also a certified therapy dog.
Polley said an opportunity for people to get their dogs certified locally would help ease the frustration she feels when she finds an eager prospective dog handler whose canine has what it takes, and months pass before there is an opportunity to get them certified. Polley said she is eager to field questions from anyone who thinks they and their dogs have what it takes to join the therapy dog program; she can be reached at 250-832-0680.