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Therapy dog helps seniors

For the past two years Joe Sauliner, Bridget Roberts and Jax have been volunteers with the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.
For the past two years Joe Sauliner, Bridget Roberts and Jax have been volunteers with the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program. - Submitted

St. John Ambulance holds training session later this month

GANDER, NL – Having retired two years ago, Joe Sauliner and his common law partner Bridget Roberts wanted to find a way to give back to the place they call home – central Newfoundland.

Living in Triton, they became involved in a number of different activities, but near and dear to their heart is the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.

Along with their 72-pound golden doodle, Jax, Sauliner and Roberts received program certification through St. John Ambulance two years ago and every Tuesday they can be found at the Valley Vista senior’s home in Springdale. They are in Grand Falls-Windsor every second week. At times Jax will visit Lakeside Homes in Gander as well.

Sauliner, who is a retired Gander RCMP officer, said his daughter Erin is involved with the program as well.

“When we decided to do this, she wanted to come on board as well," he said. "We took the course together, and when we’re away and can get the dog into Gander, she’ll take him around. He gets around a fair bit, but he really does enjoy going to the homes.”

It’s been well worth the effort for the volunteers as well, according to Roberts.

“It’s very fulfilling and satisfying,” she said of the work. “You really build a relationship with the people you visit, and most people respond well to Jax, even having special treats for him.”

Upcoming training

St. John Ambulance will be holding another training session in Gander later this month.

There are approximately 16 therapy dog volunteers involved with the program providing service in Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Botwood and Springdale.

Roberta Hewitt, director of marketing and community relations with St. John Ambulance says the therapy dog program brings love and companionship to those who may need it the most.

Pet companionship can result in numerous health benefits, such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, calming the distressed, comforting the despondent and distracting the pain-ridden.

“We are proud that our therapy dogs visit at long-term care facilities and hospitals in Central NL and we are very interested in seeing the program expand in this region,” she said. “To facilitate that, we have scheduled an orientation and evaluation for interested dog owners for late April.”

Sauliner called the process of becoming a dog therapy volunteer fairly reasonable.

It requires volunteers to have security clearance and partake in a one-day course.

“The course simulates a lot of people touching the dog, loud noises, people in different environments,” he said. “When you go into a home you don’t know what you’re going to encounter, and you need to have a dog that is capable of handling that.”

For more information or to register for the orientation and evaluation coming up on April 20-21 in Gander, please contact

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