The Laying on of Paws
By Julia Szabo
Volunteering their time wherever help is needed, trained therapy animals and
their human partners are helping to make the world a healthier place.
If your outgoing pet thrives on attention, you can maximize your bonding
time together -- and make a profound contribution to your community -- by
becoming therapy partners. Across the country, these volunteer teams dedicate
themselves to lifting spirits at hospitals, nursing homes, and anywhere else
"It's so exciting when you visit a pediatrics ward and you can just see
the light come on in the kids' eyes," says Sue Nastasi, who trains
candidates for certification with New York's Good Dog Foundation
Those visits do more than boost morale; they motivate people undergoing
painful physical rehabilitation. "Brushing a dog is exercise," points
out Good Dog founder Rachel McPherson, "but it's so much fun that patients
forget they're working!"
Delta Society (deltasociety.org) has registered Pet Partners since 1990; its
mission is "Improving Human Health through Service and Therapy
Animals." That includes mental health: In Eugene, Ore., Cindy Ehlers of
PAAWS (peopleandanimalswhoserve.org) helps those suffering from emotional
trauma. By her side is her partner, Tikva, a keeshond. In the wake of September
11, 2001, Tikva was a fixture at Ground Zero, bestowing hugs and licking tears
from the faces of firefighters, rescue workers, and the bereaved.
In this line of work, size and pedigree don't matter: One of Good Dog's
stars is Fidel, a 10-pound papillon, while Bide-A-Wee (bideawee.org), a New
York City animal shelter that also certifies therapy partners, is proud to have
graduated a 110-pound formerly stray mutt named Boris, a rottweiler mix.
Even species is no obstacle: Bide-A-Wee has cats on its team; Delta has
registered therapy rabbits and parrots. All that's required is a well-trained
pet and a compassionate human willing to spend time in exchange for enormous
spiritual reward. Says Sue Grundfest of Bide-A-Wee, who volunteers every
weekend with her poodle, Coco, "It's absolutely the most positive,
uplifting part of my week."
To learn more, contact Delta Society (deltasociety.org) or Therapy Dogs
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