It started with a problem.
Doesn't it always?
T he number of therapy animal programs wass growing faster than number of registered therapy animal teams to fill them (and it's still the case).
So a few of us started getting together to share ideas and talk about how we might get more therapy animal teams registered to volunteer. Some of us were already running therapy animal programs, some were volunteering as therapy animal teams or involved in dog training. The group struck upon the idea of having an Expo so that people could come to one place and learn about all the local therapy animal programs. But we didn’t stop there, among us, we had some very knowledgeable folks who had a lot to share about pet therapy, so we added some speaker sessions. The crazy thing? We thought we would be lucky to get 100 people to come to our event... and 250 showed up. Right then, we knew we were onto something!! At the time, we called ourselves Northeast Florida Therapy Animals.
After the first Expo, we realized the timing was right to organize and get our nonprofit status, which was completed in February 2017. When we were trying to come up with a name for the new nonprofit, we wanted to find a word that would convey the coming together of many different groups and people and Therapy Animal Coalition was born. Part of our culture is inclusiveness and we believe that we can accomplish so much more when we work TOGETHER. That's why we work together with all the registering organizations and we encourage local therapy animal programs to communicate. After all, we are all looking to accomplish the same end goal... more therapy animal teams out there making an impact.
The speaking part of our Expo was so popular that we started a Speaker Series to help with continuing education for registered teams and to help aspiring teams learn more about pet therapy. The first was entitled “Speak Dog” which helped people learn to understand how their dog communicates, and the second was a veterinarian panel called “Therapy Animals: Risks & Rewards”. In October of 2018, we hosted the second Therapy Animal Expo with internationally known keynote speaker, David Frei, and a full day of breakout sessions. We had 3 tracks with sessions for aspiring teams, already registered teams and therapy animal programs. Our exhibit hall grew from 12 booths to 23 and included 12 therapy animal programs (up from 9 the first year), registering organizations, dog trainers, and pet related businesses.
Before we got organized, there were about 120 active registered therapy animal teams. With the help of Therapy Animal Coalition, that number has risen 64% to over 200 active teams. It used to be when someone wanted to do pet therapy, they had to go it alone and try to figure out all the steps on their own. Once registered, teams would have to cold call the places they were interested in volunteering with and hope they had a program. With our help, that is no longer the case. Now there is one place to go for any resource related to therapy animals. And we aren't even close to doing everything we have set out to do. We are honored to be a part of this community and will continue to pull together so that we can accomplish our mission!!
"Animals stimulate us not only by touch, but by some deeply buried aspect of nature within us, a connection to part of something greater, more healthy, more whole." -- Peter Levine