Caught in the Act

Janet (Jan) D and Rusty with St. John Ambulance

by Erin Murphy, GPVSB Communications

After retiring from working as a counselor in the mental health sector, Janet (Jan) had a goal to volunteer in her community.  One evening while searching for the perfect opportunity on the GPVSB website, she found an ad for the Therapy Dog Program facilitated by St. John’s Ambulance.  Jan had recently adopted her Border Collie Australian Shepard mix, Rusty and the program was exactly what she was looking for.

Jan and Rusty completed training with St. John Ambulance in order to ensure that Rusty was the right fit for the volunteer position.  Rusty is a very calm, well-mannered, happy dog and he passed all of the obstacles and training with flying colors.

Jan’s experience as a counselor in mental health had her noticing over the years the importance of physical touch.  She realized that a half hour visit to someone who is either lonely or in a rough place definitely brightened their day no matter what situation they were in. The mission of St. John Ambulance’s Dog Therapy Program is to improve lives on a daily basis by bringing joy and comfort to the sick, lonely and those in need of a friendly visit and Jan and Rusty certainly fit this bill.  One of the requirements is to provide regular visits in order to develop a bond with their designated patients. Jan and Rusty routinely visit Heritage Lodge and Willow Place, as well as visiting Rotary house once a week. Rusty’s kind face and enthusiastic nature brings joy to each and every person they encounter on their many visits out in the community.   

I had the opportunity to catch Jan and Rusty while they were “in the act” of volunteering at Heritage Lodge.  She and Rusty both had smiles on their faces as did all the residents in which they were interacting with. I had the pleasure of talking with some of the seniors in the home and watched them having a wonderful petting, playing with Rusty and talking to Jan.  Each and every person was absolutely beaming and it was apparent that this was a time that was immensely enjoyed and anticipated.

The Therapy Dog Program provides an opportunity for individuals to talk and interact with both Jan and Rusty. The visits offer many benefits such as stress relief, social engagement, distraction from pain, comfort and improved self-confidence/self-esteem.  Rusty delivers unconditional love and adoration - as long as you are willing to provide some pets and scratches and Jan provides a familiar face and friendly conversation!

The Therapy Dog Program varies across Canada based on community need and the availability of volunteers. Therapy Dogs routinely offer comfort and companionship in senior residences and care facilities.  In hospitals, they may be providing relief and distraction for patients awaiting cancer treatments. There are special programs such as “Paws 4 Stories” which help young children learn to read, and in some communities Therapy Dogs work with youth at risk and children with special needs.  University campus visits are very popular, helping to relieve stress during exam periods. In special cases, Therapy Dogs can be found working with police and fire departments, social workers and psychologists during times of crisis. It is continuing to expand as communities recognize the special contributions that St. John Ambulance’s caring, four-legged volunteers can bring to Canadians of all ages in all life circumstances.  

Jan enjoys being out in our local community, seeing people encouraged and full of joy when they visit. It’s not just individuals of the community getting to know Rusty, they are building a relationship with both Jan and her furry companion. It is a small commitment and very rewarding for Jan and her trusty pal, Rusty. You get the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people in the community who may need to be cheered up by a friendly pet and induvial!

We would like to thank Jan and Rusty for all of their wonderful volunteering and for all of the joy they create!

 St. John Ambulance

Organization Profile


St. John Ambulance Mission Statement: To enable Canadians to improve their health, safety and quality of life by providing training and community service.

For more information about St John Ambulance, please go to at or phone (780) 532-1012.





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