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Meet the volunteer therapy dogs helping young people to read in Vancouver

Written by Cheryl Cole

All dogs are amazing, but these volunteer therapy dogs are just that extra bit special.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the St John Ambulance therapy dogs are ridiculously cute, but they take their jobs very seriously and are making a huge difference in the local community.

These wonderful volunteer pups are helping children improve their reading skills with the ‘Paws 4 Stories’ initiative running throughout 22 libraries across communities in British Columbia.

Volunteer pup at Chetwynd Public Library

‘Paws 4 Stories’ allows children to read books to volunteer therapy dogs, helping to build their confidence while also improving their literacy skills. Unsurprisingly, the program has been extremely popular with families in Vancouver.

Ashten Black, Program and Outreach Manager at St John Ambulance and owner of one of the program’s 145 Child Evaluated therapy dogs, explains,

“Paws 4 Stories really works. I have seen children, apprehensive to read become excited to pick out a book.  Dogs are non-judgemental and their company and companionship really helps to put people at ease.  It’s beautiful to be a part of.”

I was lucky enough to meet Ashten's dog ‘Pig’ and see for myself what makes him and his furry friends so special, and it really is impossible to not feel happy when you see these dogs proudly wearing their ‘St John Ambulance’ bandanas.

St John Ambulance therapy dog
St John Ambulance therapy dog smiling at the camera

Ashten rescued ‘Pig’, a beautiful Border Collie and Tahltan Bear Dog cross, back in 2013 and it didn’t take long for her to recognise his potential as a great therapy dog.

“He was gentle and sociable from the very beginning and was always so good at picking up on the emotional needs of people, gravitating towards people who needed support. I knew he’d be amazing and he brings so much joy to everyone he meets,” smiles his proud owner.

In his spare time, 7-year-old 'Pig' is a big adventurer and loves stand-up paddle boarding, hiking and even has his own backpack.

But there’s nothing ‘Pig’ enjoys more than volunteering and he looks forward to curling up on a beanbag and taking part in ‘Paws 4 Stories’ every week.  He loves poetry (his favourite book is ‘The Dog with Two Tails’) and lights up when he is read books about cats, or food!

If you’d like to take your child to a ‘Paws 4 Stories’ session, just check out your local library’s website for their weekly schedule – we've included the next two events below.

And if you think your dog would make a great therapy dog, St John’s Ambulance is always looking for volunteers so get in touch! 


Where: Capilano Library

When: Wed, Nov 27, 2019 @ 3:30pm - 4:45pm

Registration required. Call 604-987-4471, ext. 8175 or visit the Capilano Information Desk.

Where: North Vancouver District Public Library, Lynn Valley Branch

When: Thurs, Nov 28, 2019 @ 6:00pm - 7:00pm

Registration required. Call 604-984-0286, ext. 8141 or visit the Lynn Valley Children’s Desk.


The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program was launched in Canada in 1995 and has been improving lives on a daily basis ever since by bringing joy and comfort to the sick, lonely and those who need a friendly visit.

Currently, St John Ambulance has 145 Child Evaluated dogs that participate in Paws 4 Stories and over 860 regular Therapy Dogs in their Program.

The volunteer-based program is run purely on donations and is always looking for new volunteers. 

If you have a dog who you think would make a great therapy dog, or you’re a dog lover who wants to lend a hand and volunteer in the program, send an email to


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