VERNON - Vernon’s Therapy Dog Program is the focus of some confusion following claims that the service is shutting down.
Jo-Ann Johnston, the unit facilitator for the past 17 years, announced the closure in a recent letter to volunteers:
“I am writing to inform you that the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program will no longer be offered in Vernon at this time. You might ask, ‘What? Why?’ It is mainly because there has been changes to the protocols and procedures of the program. These changes will require extra responsibilities for all the volunteers and will become very time consuming. My volunteers want to take their dogs visiting and not be burdened by this new, impersonal, data based system.”
In an interview July 11, Johnston spoke highly of the dogs and volunteers that visited various facilities in Vernon, including the hospital, care homes, and schools.
"There are so many stories," she says. "The impact was unbelievable."
She said recent restructuring at St. John Ambulance came with new onerous requirements for volunteers to log their hours and other information into a computer system, and said it was no longer feasible to run the program.
“A few of my people did not even have a computer to go and register,” Johnston said. “It was too much to expect from the handlers.”
Johnston was quoted in another media outlet earlier this month saying the program has shut down, however a spokesperson for the St. John Ambulance said those reports are false.
Jill Wurflinger, director of communication services, said she was surprised to read the recent report citing a closure of the program.
“We still have volunteers there, we haven’t shut down. In fact we are expanding capacity,” Wurflinger said.
She confirmed the organization has shifted to a new, computer-based system for inputting volunteer hours, schedules and other information. She said the new system brings communications with volunteers into the 21st century (formerly information was done on paper) and added that the same data system is used by other organizations including hospitals.
“We’ve been implementing that and it’s certainly new to some volunteers,” Wurflinger said.
While the sole point of contact for volunteers used to be the unit facilitator only, Wurflinger said the new system enhances the flow of information and helps the organization support volunteers.
“If we have volunteers that don’t have a computer, there are ways to support them and ways around that,” she said.
Asked if the program lost any volunteers due to the changes, Wurflinger said “there are some people who don’t like change.” She said the program still has a number of active volunteers, and noted handlers were visiting Vernon Jubilee Hospital as recently as this past week.
Wurflinger said it’s unfortunate that incorrect reports were made about the program shutting down.
“We hope to have more therapy dog handlers in Vernon and expand the program,” she said.
Anyone interested in getting involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wurflinger confirmed St. John Ambulance also has active therapy dog programs in Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops.
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