John Harper sitting on an electronic scooter with pet therapy dog Pablo

#IamMGH Pet Therapy – Meet John Harper and Pablo

#IamMGH tells the stories of our people. In this special edition, we’re highlighting the volunteers and pet therapy dogs who support the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. Meet John Harper, Volunteer and Pet Therapy Dog Handler, and Pablo, an Australian Red Heeler Cattle dog and Pet Therapy Dog, at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH). 

“Pablo came into my life 12 years ago by chance. I was at a model train show and he was there on his first social outing with his foster parent. Pablo was only a few months old at the time and had just healed from a leg amputation. The moment I saw him, I knew he was meant to be part of my family.  

After a year of being in my life, I brought Pablo to St. John Ambulance to get evaluated to become a pet therapy dog like my other dog, Shimmer. Pablo passed the evaluation and started joining me at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) every other day, rotating days with Shimmer. When Shimmer retired, Pablo became a full-time pet therapy dog.  

Throughout our 11 years volunteering together, Pablo has visited many places to provide comfort to those that need it the most. This includes many hospitals in the city, airports and even the Pan American Games. At MGH, Pablo has visited mental health patients including those in the child and youth mental health units. The young children love seeing Pablo. He puts a smile on their faces and helps to relieve any stress they may be going through.  

In addition to being a pet therapy dog handler, I was also an evaluator for the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program for a decade. During this time, I evaluated around 500 dogs which involved testing a dogs energy level, their comfort level with people and more. It was important to ensure the dog and its owner worked as a team. Pet therapy dogs are patient, confident and love human contact. Because I was an evaluator for so long, I find it easy to pick up on those qualities and can sense when a dog may be a good fit for the role. I’ve recruited several volunteers and dogs to join the program from my local dog park.  

One of the most rewarding parts of being a pet therapy dog handler is seeing the effect that Pablo has on people. A few years ago, we were visiting a young man that was injured in an accident and unable to move. Pablo hopped up on his bed – at the time, the young man was only able to put his hand on him. After months of visiting, he was eventually able to move his arms. When I saw how much joy Pablo brought him, I promised him that he could take Pablo for a walk before he was discharged. His physical therapy continued for about three years. When he was discharged, I kept my promise to him and brought in an extra lead for him to hold as we walked Pablo together. That day brought us all so much joy.  

What I love most about Pablo is the unconditional love he has for everyone. He has met thousands of people, and like all pet therapy dogs, has contributed to helping them get better.” 

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