Petal, a shih tzu-Maltese-wheaten, is not your typical St John volunteer.
The placid pooch devotes time as a pet therapist alongside her owner, Anne Davies, at Alexandra’s Ranui Court Retirement Village.
Petal graces the lounge areas of the home as a St John Outreach Therapy Pet, a joint initiative with the SPCA.
The aim is to give residents a chance to interact with Petal.
The service is based on the reading education assistance dogs programme developed in the United States.
It has been running successfully in schools and libraries in New Zealand for many years and, thanks to 7-year-old Petal, is now on offer in Alexandra.
Petal’s gentle nature makes her a perfect candidate for the role and St John hopes other dogs might be nominated for the programme so the service could be taken further afield, possibly to schools, libraries and hospitals.
Mrs Davies and Petal make fortnightly visits to Ranui. Petal’s role at the home is to simply be pampered by residents who want to show her affection and chat to her.
That only happens within the confines of the home’s lounge areas, not in the bedrooms.
If the programme is further developed into schools and libraries, it would involve children reading to Petal one-on-one.
A St John spokesman said research showed that children who read to animals were more relaxed and had slower pulse and respiration rates.
As a result, they were more likely to self-correct when reading words and try words they were unfamiliar with, he said.
“It is a simple concept that can produce great results.”
Petal, who was given to Mrs Davies by her husband, Laurie, was put through her paces to ensure she had the right temperament for the job.
She passed with flying colours.
“I’m so proud of her,” Mrs Davies said.
Mrs Davies, a retired registered nurse, enjoys her involvement with the programme and was pleased she had nominated Petal for the role.
“I understand pet therapy is just a wonderful thing.”
St John South Island region community care manager Pam Hall hopes more dogs like Petal will be signed up for the programme to ensure it can be developed further within Central Otago.
“Outreach Therapy Pets is a valuable service to our communities both in schools and rest homes and we have requests from a number of establishments who would like visits,” she said.
“To do this we need more volunteers, so if you are interested and have a canine companion then we would love to here from you. Just give Sandra at St John Alexandra a call on 448-8781, extension 3.”