The impact animals can have on people is obvious in the number of households with pets and the stories people tell of how their pets improve their lives. Therapy animals take that impact further by bringing the effects of pets to people in places where having your own pet might not be an option.
Pet Partners is the leader in demonstrating and promoting the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted interventions (AAI). With more than 10,000 volunteers making more than three million visits annually, we serve as the largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering therapy animal teams, who improve human health and well-being through the human-animal bond.
Every year on April 30, Pet Partners celebrates National Therapy Animal Day, to recognize all of the exceptional therapy animals who partner with their human companions to bring comfort and healing to those in need. Therapy animals and their handlers can be found helping people of all ages in a variety of settings including hospitals, veterans support, hospice care, schools, senior living facilities, and more. Anywhere that an animal’s presence can provide comfort and health benefits is a place you can find a Pet Partners therapy animal team.
It takes a special pet to be a therapy animal. Therapy animals need to have an affiliative nature, meaning that they enjoy meeting and interacting with new people, and aren’t intimidated by new experiences. And their handlers (the human end of the leash) need to have a strong bond with their pets, to make sure they can advocate for their pets during visits and guide interactions to be safe for everyone. Pet Partners therapy animal teams pass a rigorous evaluation to demonstrate that they have the skills and aptitude to visit safely.
All of our therapy animal teams are special. Here are some examples of our teams and what they do.
Karen and Dudley
Karen Demyanovich and her dog Dudley have been a registered Pet Partners team since 2014. Dudley was a rescue dog, found abandoned as a puppy, and Karen and her husband adopted him from a shelter in New Hampshire. Dudley has a calm, accepting personality, likes to learn new things, and loves people, which made him a great candidate for therapy animal work. Karen and Dudley currently split their time between Florida and Maryland, and touch many lives in both places. Dudley is always up for an adventure that involves visiting and meeting new people. They have done a lot of work as a Read With Me team; Dudley loves meeting kids and snuggling up with them while they read to him. They also make numerous visits to senior living communities, bringing smiles and affection to residents. All of their adventures are special, but Karen has a particular cherished memory of a visit with a man in hospice, whose last wish was to spend some time with a dog. Dudley laid on the man’s bed for about two hours, giving just as much love as he had received. “I could see the comfort and joy his presence brought the man,” says Karen. “It was a heartwarming experience I will never forget.”
Megan and Scout
Megan Bowen and her cat Scout are a team in Salem, MA who recently registered with Pet Partners. Megan works in technology education at a local school and has a passion for helping students learn. Megan and her partner adopted Scout in 2017, hoping for an “adventure cat” who would be open to new experiences. “Scout was the smallest cat there but also the feistiest,” Megan says. They began training Scout to walk on a leash right away, and soon they were going for walks around town, as well as attending special events with a lot of people and other animals present. “Any time we took Scout out and she interacted with people, it was clear that she loved the attention and not many things bothered her,” says Megan. “We wanted to be able to share her special personality with more people.” Megan decided that a great way to share Scout’s gifts, as well as to engage her own passion for helping students, was to become a therapy animal team, and they registered with Pet Partners in early 2019. Megan and Scout began their volunteering with Tufts Paws for People, visiting in a variety of settings. They are starting a Read With Me program at their local library, where students will read to Scout in order to gain more comfort and confidence in their reading skills. And they plan to take part in special events and outreach to show more people what therapy cats can do.
Marilyn and Beau
Marilyn Douglas and her dog Beau are a busy team in Connecticut. Marilyn has been volunteering with Pet Partners since 2002, dedicated to sharing the healing power of pets with her community. She and Beau are in high demand around the Hartford area, visiting at a wide variety of facilities and events, including senior living, workplace well-being, heart health, and veterans. Beau is a “bassador,” a basset hound/Labrador retriever mix, and the name offers a great play on words for Beau’s calling as a therapy dog, where he serves as an am“bassador” for the power of the human-animal bond. “I call Beau my Bassador of love because he brings joy to everyone who meets him,” says Marilyn. One of their most moving visits was at a resource fair for veterans, where one particular veteran found a special bond with Beau. The veteran had recently lost his own dog, who strongly resembled Beau, and who had been a companion for him as he dealt with homelessness. He spent an hour cuddling and petting Beau, remembering his own dog and taking comfort in Beau’s affectionate presence. This veteran was about to start a new phase of his life, moving into housing and beginning treatment for his health issues; his interaction with Beau offered a symbolic transition to this phase. “It was one of the most profound experiences of my time as a therapy animal handler,” says Marilyn.
These are just a few examples of the wonderful therapy animal teams that Pet Partners registers. We’re proud to work with so many dedicated volunteers and their loving pets to bring the power of the human-animal bond to people who can benefit. And we’re grateful for support from the Pet Food Institute that helps us educate and register more therapy animal teams across the U.S.
For more information about our Therapy Animal Program and our work in AAI, please visit our website at petpartners.org.