Therapy pets: St John sets out to find Hawke’s Bay’s new paw patrol

2 min read

Tess Sykes (left) with Bolt and Stanley, Michelle Dalley with Bailey, Dave Pipe with Jay and Rosie Mitchell with Cocoa. Photo / Warren Buckland

As Tess Syke’s daughter sat in an intensive care unit a couple of years ago, it was a furry friend that helped her get through the tough times.

That’s why the district youth manager is championing an incentive by St John to get therapy pets active in rest homes, hospitals, schools and cyclone-affected areas in Hawke’s Bay.

“I saw the benefit to her when people were bringing their dogs in. Even a couple of hours of happiness in ICU is much better than a long time of boredom and misery going through what many of them are going through in there.

“Dogs are a useful tool for absolutely everything. They love you unconditionally, they’re very happy to see you and they just make your day even better when you’ve had a terrible day.”


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While her dogs Bolt and Stanley won’t be part of the programme, there’s still growing interest in therapy pets from a number of dog owners in the region.

“This much-loved programme has had a hugely positive impact on both mental and physical wellbeing throughout Aotearoa,” Pam Hall, Hato Hone St John community care manager said.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be bringing these benefits to Hawke’s Bay.”

Local Dave Pipe is keen to see his golden retriever Jay help out.


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He has been interested in getting the programme here for a while now and even got in touch with St John to suggest it comes to the region.

“I’ve always been interested in using Jay as a therapy dog. I’ve got a cousin over in Canada who owns a goldie, and she takes part in the St John dog therapy programme there.

“I’ve been following her over the last four to five years and thought, my dog would be just great for that.”

Jay has been living with Pipe and his wife in a lifestyle village and has already proved a hit with the locals due to her friendly demeanour.

“We’ve got the care centre and a memory centre that’s opening shortly. I approached the manager and asked if [Jay] could work some time there.”

Pipe said it was great that the region was getting an opportunity like this when it was usually only activated in the major cities. He also said it was good to be able to have the option of certification available.

“It’s all very well taking your dog into places, but it’s nice to have had someone to check the dog out independently so you know that the dog is safe going into those environments because that’s the most important thing.”

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.

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


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Pipe recalls times when he’s seen the individual impact Jay has had on people.

“For the elderly, It often brings back memories of dogs that they’ve had in their past. For people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they come up to Jay and suddenly open up.”

Jay isn’t the only passionate pooch that’s pounced on the project.

Rosie Mitchell’s spoodle Cocoa and Michelle Dalley’s smoothed griffon Bailey are eager to put their talents towards the pawsitive cause.

Mitchell said seeing how good her dog had been with children prompted her to think about what Cocoa could bring.

“You want to share them. It feels greedy when you keep all the joy to yourself.”


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Dalley works as a professional coach and therapist and wants to get Bailey to a point where she can be more involved in her work.

“I was doing some trauma recovery training recently and she came along. It was the first training she has come to, and it went really well.”

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

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

Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in late January. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community. He has a particular love for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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