A guest entry by our board member, Kathy Burns. Kathy is currently serving as board Secretary, a post she does with impeccable precision and dedication.
We all have our personal reasons for why we embarked on this wonderful adventure called animal-assisted interactions or “pet therapy.”
I had never heard of pet therapy until I served on the board of the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville. They got a resident therapy dog, Anita, a wonderful yellow Labrador Retriever. Anita lived with the executive director and went to work with her every day – literally. Anita knew her job and was good at it. I marveled watching her interact with the families, most of whom returned from the hospital after visiting their sick children looking tired, drawn and worried. But when Anita worked her magic, the physical transformation amazed me. You could see relief wash over them, and the concern and fatigue were replaced with smiles.
A few years later, a couple in my church shared with me a book they had self-published, Angel in Fur. Written in their dog’s “voice,” the book is the recollections of their beloved black Lab Candy’s pet therapy journey. Candy still holds the record for the number of visits at Wolfson Children’s Hospital – 336 in 13 years.
As they say, God works in mysterious ways. My husband Dan and I had lost our little dog a couple years before. While we still grieved for her, we felt we were ready to welcome a new little furry family member into our hearts. And it was then I felt that God was calling me to do pet therapy.
Our little 6-pound Yorkie, Libby, and I are relatively new to this, since we’ve been involved only three years. Just like all of you, I’m sure, we’ve had some amazing experiences. On one of our very first visits, Libby was in the lap of an Alzheimer’s patient. The patient was smiling, petting Libby and talking to her. It was only at the end of the visit that the activities director said she nearly cried watching the interaction because that patient didn’t talk. Then there was the little boy – a cancer patient – who had had a few really bad days. But when Libby gave him a “high-5,” his smile lit up the entire room! Another cancer patient, a teenage girl from China, spoke not a word of English. Libby curled up next to her in bed. And as I watched the girl petting Libby, smiling and looking into Libby’s eyes – and Libby looking into hers – I realized there was no language barrier between them.
It’s all about the smiles!
As I was embarking on this journey, I did a lot of research and quickly learned there is no “owner’s manual” for pet therapy. I did a lot of fumbling around initially and, with God’s help, managed to find my way.
That’s why Therapy Animal Coalition is so sorely needed and why I’m so delighted and excited to be part of such a dynamic and visionary organization. Whether you’re just starting out, are an experienced team or a facility or organization that wants to launch a program, TAC has the resources to help you share the healing love of pets.