Andrew McMartin |

Hato Hone St John is seeking furry friends for a new Therapy Pets programme in Hawke’s Bay.

The programme, which brings the companionship of dogs to people at rest homes, healthcare facilities, schools, and community events, has proven immensely popular in towns and communities across New Zealand.

Pam Hall, Hato Hone St John Community Care Manager, says: “This much-loved programme has had a hugely positive impact on both mental and physical wellbeing throughout Aotearoa, so we are absolutely thrilled to be bringing these benefits to Hawke’s Bay.”

With the service now launched, Ms Hall says suitable dogs and dog-owners are invited to volunteer for the programme.

“The ideal therapy dog has a friendly, calm and gentle temperament, and is good with both the very young and elderly.

“If you think your canine companion has what it takes, and you want to help make a positive difference in the Hawke’s Bay community, Hato Hone St John would love to hear from you.”

To ensure each pet has a suitable temperament and adequate training, all dogs will be evaluated by a qualified animal assessor.

Once enough furry volunteers have been recruited, Hato Hone St John will start contacting local organisations interested in hosting pet therapy visits.

Aside from bringing animal companionship to the community, Ms Hall says the initiative also helps children develop confidence when reading, through the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) programme.

“Being in close physical contact with a dog can help reduce stress for young readers by shifting their focus from the people in the room to the animal.

“By reading to a non-judgmental, unconditionally devoted pet, children become more engaged, relaxed, and find greater fun in learning.”

Tess Sykes, a proud Hawke’s Bay dog owner and Hato Hone St John District Youth Manager, says the benefits of animal companionship are well-known.

“Nothing quite compares to the unconditional love animals provide. Their friendship can reduce anxiety, ease loneliness and, of course, provide physical benefits through exercise.

“We can’t wait to spread a little animal aroha throughout the community.”

The time commitment for Therapy Pet volunteers is one hour per week. People interested in volunteering can contact  

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