Outreach Therapy Pets is a community service programme delivered by St John. The programme offers the opportunity for volunteers to enhance the lives of others by sharing their animal companions with those who reside in rest homes, private and public hospitals, rehabilitation units, healthcare facilities and schools throughout New Zealand.

The programme was first introduced into New Zealand in 1988 by Bob Kerridge (SPCA) and his late wife Iris, after being impressed with a similar programme operating in San Francisco (USA).

In 2003 the SPCA partnered with St John to grow the service within the Auckland area and ultimately throughout the country. This partnership has now ceased, and St John solely operates the service throughout New Zealand.

Outreach Therapy Pets includes the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) programme which is based in schools. The reduced stress engendered by close physical contact with a dog helps children who are normally afraid of reading aloud to take part in a remedial reading programme.

The benefits of contact with pets in:

Aged care facilities

  • Affection and regular visitation of an animal can make a difference in both the physical and emotional health of the residents
  • Animals don't judge or criticise they treat everyone equally
  • They aren’t shocked by human ailments, frailties, handicaps and confusion
  • They can reduce the stress and fears associated with illness or old age
  • They offer unconditional love and friendship


  • It shifts the child’s focus from the adult in the room to the dog
  • The child experiences learning as fun, informal and less intimidating
  • The child reads to a non-judgmental, unconditionally devoted listener
  • Touching the dog reduces a child anxiety about reading
  • The child feels special and appreciated because he/she has been chosen to have time with the dog

Currently Outreach Therapy Pets is operating in the following areas:

Northern Region:  Auckland, Whangarei, Northland & Kerikeri

Central Region:  Palmerston North & Te Kauwhata

South Island: Invercargill, Queenstown, Wanaka, Alexandra, Balclutha & Christchurch



All pets are assessed to ensure their suitability for the role by an approved dog behaviourist/trainer or appropriate equivalent for other types of animals.

It is envisaged that a volunteer would commit to one establishment visit per week plus

Would you like to find out more about using the Outreach Therapy Pets service?

If you would like to find out more about whether an Outreach Therapy Pets  team can visit your establishment please email  CHSAdmin@stjohn.org.nz for more information.

Interested in volunteering?

If you and your animal are interested in volunteering with Outreach Therapy Pets please contact CHSAdmin@stjohn.org.nz for more information.