Animal ambassadors assist with therapy

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Dec 14, 2013 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

It helps people relax, creates inner calm and chases away the blues. No, it’s not a wonder drug; it’s Pet-Assisted Therapy (P-AT). Unlike service animals that help people with physical or mental difficulties, therapy animals visit a range of places, from convalescent homes and hospitals to juvenile detention centers and mental health centers. The San Diego Humane Society and SPCA coordinated 637 visits to such facilities from July 1, 2012, to June 30 this year.

“The impact our P-AT animals and volunteers make in the community is tremendous,” said Judith Eisenberg, Pet-Assisted Therapy Coordinator for the Humane Society. “Seniors who haven’t communicated in months speak to our animals. Children who have come from difficult backgrounds are able to feel safe once again when they’re with our animal ambassadors. Troubled patients calm down when stroking fur.”

Dogs are required to undergo five training sessions and a test to achieve Canine Good Citizen certification for Pet-Assisted Therapy. According to Kelli Schry, public relations manager of the San Diego Humane Society, certified dogs and their people are asked to volunteer six hours a month. Visiting times average between one to two hours.

Often, the Humane Society’s visits include a number of animals.

“We have guinea pigs, rabbits and even rats,” said Schry, who said her organization has operated this program for 30 years. “The dogs go with their owners who volunteer, but the small animals live here at the Humane Society. They work P-AT until they no longer want to. Our coordinator is very good at reading when animals don’t want to do that anymore. They are then placed for adoption.”

You don’t need a dog to volunteer for P-AT, as human companions are needed for the smaller animals on the visits.

The Humane Society also offers the Welcome Waggin’ Program, in which dogs and their human companions come to individual homes. From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, there were 67 Welcome Waggin’ visits. Neither Welcome Waggin’ nor P-AT charge the homes or facilities for visits.

Schry said that a dog owner considering their pet for this work needs to be sure the dog is social and friendly.

“Dogs should be OK with being petted by multiple people,” Schry said. “They should be calm when lots of distractions are going on around them.”

And what are the criteria for humans?

“Just the love of animals,” Schry said.

Pet therapy resources

San Diego Inland Love on a Leash: (Chapter of the National Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy);

Paws 4 Healing: (Nonprofit organization in Southern California, including San Diego);

San Diego Humane Society and SPCA’s Pet-Assisted Therapy:

American Kennel Club: (for more on Canine Good Citizen certification);

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