Volunteering with a Therapy Dog
Animals often bring out the best in people. They can calm anxious individuals or stimulate movement and interaction in those with physical disabilities. During Helen Woodward Animal Center Pet Encounter Therapy (P.E.T.) visits, P.E.T. volunteers have seen movement from unresponsive patients or heard words spoken for the first time – all to the amazement of fellow residents and staff members! P.E.T. volunteers bring the unconditional love and tactile benefits of animals to people in a variety of settings – skilled nursing facilities, children’s shelters, hospitals, psychiatric units and many more.
One of those volunteers is Liane and her P.E.T. dog, Solo. Solo is an Afghan Hound with long, luxurious black and grey fur. Liane and Solo’s specialty is visiting skilled nursing care facilities, memory care facilities and hospitals, but Solo loves everyone and anyone he meets. Solo also loves all animals and will even play-bow to the lizards in his garden, trying to get them to play.
Tell Us About Your Therapy Work
How did you get involved in the P.E.T. program at Helen Woodward Animal Center?
I was volunteering with the Therapeutic Riding program and wanted to start with P.E.T., too, with the idea of working with a future hound. I met Robin, the P.E.T. Manager, and knew I wanted to join the program!
How did you know your dog would be a good therapy dog?
Solo is the fourth hound of mine that has worked in the program. All of my dogs all have been very people-oriented, and Solo is the most silly, outgoing and engaging of them all. Like all my hounds that have worked in P.E.T., Solo gets pouty when people pass him by without petting him or talking to him. He is a natural for therapy work!
Why do you enjoy volunteering with your dog in the program?
It truly is the highlight of the week, what could be better than showing off your beloved hound, making people smile, laugh and share the love of dogs. Some of the people that we visit have had to give up their pet when they went in a facility. Our visits mean a great deal to them and they are delighted to be able to pet our dogs.
What do you and your dog gain from your experience as volunteers?
They have all enjoyed their time, and Solo looks forward to the day with great enthusiasm. Over the years, we have had some memorable moments, engaging a few patients who had not communicated before our visit. These times are just precious and are beyond words to express how much it means to us all.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering in the program but is not sure?
I run into people while walking Solo and talk about P.E.T., some people love the idea, for all the good reasons, making people happy. I think when we put ourselves in the position of the people we visit, as animal lovers, we would relish a visit from a therapy pet. I have been told numerous times that what we do is so important and it is true. When people thank us, it is one of those times where we are the grateful ones to be able to do the “work” we do.
If you’re interested in learning more about Pet Encounter Therapy, or volunteering with Helen Woodward Animal Center, visit us at our website: www.animalcenter.org.