Therapy dogs (pets) are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in hospice, disaster areas, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and more.
Service dogs (and horses) are trained to help people with disabilities, such as visual impairments, mental illnesses, diabetes, etc.
Therefore, cats do not make good service animals, but they can be very effective as therapy animals.
On Florida’s Treasure Coast, Misty’s Pals Pet Therapy Volunteer Program is a program at the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC), Inc.
I am very familiar with this program because Marcy Burford, a friend of mine and a vet tech at my vet’s office, participates in this program with her rescue dog Skipper.
Skipper helps with several of Misty’s Pals programs including Paws to Read.
Paws To Read is an award-winning literacy program using animals to increase reading skills and self-confidence in children.
Animals accept us as we are.
Animals don’t judge and they don’t threaten which is why they are so effective in pet therapy.
Adults and children can interact with therapy pets, secure in the knowledge that there’s no hidden agenda.
Misty’s Pals pet therapy volunteer program’s mission is to provide “Lessons in Kindness” teaching children the responsibilities of pet ownership, safety among animals and kindness toward all living things.
Paws To Read is just one of the Misty’s Pals sub-programs.
Others include: Lessons In Kindness; Paws To Love; Pawsitive Healing; Pawsitive Interaction; and Paws to Empower.
2020 and the pandemic forced Misty’s Pals out of their comfort zone by shifting to zoom calls and distanced visits.
How could this program have the same positive affect on people they were “visiting” through a window or a phone screen?
Many of us can relate to this dilemma.
I know I can.
I took piano lessons via zoom.
Zoom was a great Band-Aid for the lessons, but it just wasn’t the same.
Misty’s Pals is making a comeback!
With nursing homes and schools opening back up, many of Misty’s Pals’ volunteers were excited to know that they would start to see life in the therapy programs once again.
Students have been improving their reading abilities with outdoor Paws to Read sessions.
The Humane Education department received a $4,900 grant from the United Way of Martin County.
The Paws to Love visits are beginning to open up again.
HSTC is currently back to visiting 74% of their nursing/assisted living facilities and continue to visit outdoors at all three Cleveland Clinic Hospitals.
Volunteers and their certified Pet Therapy dogs welcome staff at shift changes (6:30am or 6:30pm and the administrative staff at 8:00am).
How cool is that?
Can you imagine how that must lift the spirits of the hospital staff coming to work?
I had a wonderful and long career working for others and never once was I greeted at the door of my employment by an adorable, fuzzy-wuzzy animal who looked genuinely happy to see me.
Additionally, HSTC developed a relationship with Martin County’s chapter of Safe Space.
The relationship is not new with Safe Space, but the pet therapy aspect is.
Vetted volunteers go to a discrete location twice a month and spend quality time with the children and adults who are taking refuge at this temporary home.
Pet therapy classes have also resumed.
HSTC is hopeful their schedule will continue to grow.
They are refreshed and ready to make an impact in their amazing community.
If you are interested in volunteering with your pet for HSTC’s Pet Assisted Activities programs, contact Jessie Clifford (772-600-3221).
HSTC provides on-going training, regular meetings, and group activities.
Pet therapy is a rewarding experience for you and your companion animal.
You can also visit www.hstc1.org/pet-therapy to obtain more information.
Pet Partners is another organization whose mission is to promote health and wellness benefits through the human-animal bond.
Purina Cat Chow has teamed up with Pet Partners to increase awareness that cats can provide therapeutic benefits.
Many people associate therapy animals with dogs and horses.
However, we cat owners know that we frequently have lower stress levels than non-pet owners.
This can certainly improve blood pressure and other stress related issues.
Cats love to find a lap and hunker down.
Therapy cats provide positive emotional and relaxing benefits to nursing home, memory care, and assisted living facility residents.
The last four years of my mother’s life were spent in a wonderful memory care facility in Largo, FL.
I had the pleasure of observing my mother’s reaction to a visit from a group of therapy animals.
My mother might not have remembered who I was, but she always remembered how to hold a cat in her lap and softly pet it while smiling.
It has been estimated that nearly 6.5 million animals enter shelters in the U.S. each year.
Pet Partners’ position on shelter animals as therapy animals is a resounding, “yes.”
Animals adopted from shelters can make great therapy animals.
Some might not be appropriate for pet therapy.
Shelter staff are always observing and assessing the behavior of the animals under their care and are able to provide important insight into your adoptee’s behavior.
Adopters of shelter animals should not overlook pets with special needs. (Check out my May blog post about Animals with Disabilities).
Additionally, therapy animals do not have to look perfect to make a difference in someone’s life.
Skipper, Marcy’s dog mentioned earlier and pictured above, also has a disability.
He has a deformed leg (in the photo, above, Skipper is wearing his therapy dog scarf and his prosthetic leg).
But, isn’t he adorable?
Skipper easily bonds with children who have disabilities, offering inspiration and relatability to his young clients.
I am an animal rescue advocate.
Many animals who end up in a shelter are very loving, loyal, and smart.
I, of course, encourage going to an animal shelter when looking for a pet.
Many people think of shelter animals as being subpar.
That is hardly the truth.
Shelter rescues can be trained to become therapy pets for people who need support as well as a wonderful household addition.
They just need to be given a chance.
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