Pet Partners Goes International – Dog Visits for Health and Wellness

Did you know that animals can benefit the health and wellness of people in need? Pet Partners, a therapy animal organization, is on track to bring the healing power of therapy animals to hospitals, nursing homes, and more in Spain. Therapy animal teams are made up of a highly-educated handler who makes therapy animal visits with their pet, who has a calm temperament and seeks out interactions with people.

Pet Partners provides prospective therapy animal teams with online education about how to be a good therapy animal team. Then, prospective teams are tested by an evaluator, who will determine if the animal has the proper temperament to provide therapy animal visits. This evaluator will then determine if the handler can read their animal’s body language, as well as advocate for and provide continuous reassurance to their animal.

photo by Andrew Leu, courtesy Unsplash

Pet Partners has been operating in the United States for 40 years, but recently expanded into 11 countries, thanks to a generous donation from the Lilly Foundation, through Elanco Animal Health. These funds allowed Pet Partners to create evaluators and register therapy animal teams around the world.

Our first international evaluation occurred at the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations conference. Practicum attendees hailed from Hong Kong, India, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland. These evaluators all passed their practicum, and then returned to their home countries to begin evaluating and registering therapy animal teams.

Next, Pet Partners traveled to South Korea and Colombia to hold practicums and evaluations over the span of a few days; these trips added 6 more international evaluators. These trips also allowed us to register several new therapy animal teams (many of whom were evaluators) during our time in-country.

In 2018, Pet Partners registered 3 more evaluators, hailing from Spain, Switzerland, and Romania. Mona Tellier, Pet Partners evaluator from Spain, explains why she became involved with Pet Partners:

 “Pet Partners embodies the joy of practicing AAI with your pet in a safe, non-invasive manner. Everyone enjoys the experience. As volunteerism increases in Spain, I see more and more people willing and eager to share their beloved pet with those living in institutions.”

Prospective volunteers should be aware that the international Pet Partners therapy animal program is still in a pilot phase, so at this time, dogs are only accepted as therapy animals. Pet Partners does plan to add other species as international therapy animals in 2019 – if you’re a cat or horse lover, stay tuned! However, since 2019 Pet Partners offers insurance coverage to international teams. Some facilities may require this insurance coverage to visit, so we are pleased to ease the teams’ volunteer activities. The required course for handlers and all continuing education courses are in English, so comfort with speaking, reading, and writing in English is necessary to participate. The vet form is available in many languages, including Spanish, so your veterinarian can fill that form out with ease.

There are many benefits to volunteering with your pet. Volunteers experience a deep bond with their animal because they dedicate time to training and learning about their animal’s body language. This bond is deepened when volunteers visit in patients in hospitals.

photo by Alicia Jones, courtesy Unsplash

Patients will begin to smile when you and your animal walk through the door; therapy animal visits are often the highlight in a patient’s day.

Volunteering with Pet Partners can also help you build a community of pet lovers who want to make a difference. Our volunteers work together to approach facilities about visits, visit groups together, and share resources and tips. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet people with your interests and values. Pet Partners will launch an online community soon for therapy animal teams. This will be an online resource where teams can post questions and seek advice from other therapy animal teams. As our international program is just getting started in Spain, this will be particularly helpful for our new Spanish teams to make connections and learn from other volunteers around the world.

Our volunteers will tell you that the best reason to get involved with Pet Partners is to make a difference in your community. The most meaningul moments for many of our volunteers occur when clients connect with their pets. One of our international handlers from Colombia, Teresa, recounts a visit that lifted the spirits of children and care workers in need of some joy.

“Our first visit as a Pet Partners therapy animal team was on December 23rd at Centro Terapeutico Infantil (CETI). The government places children with disabilities with this organization when the children are without family, need protection, have inadequate living situations, or when families need extra support. Many of the children are in wheelchairs. I felt that the energy of the organization was so heavy because of the difficulties the children had to overcome.

The children were sad because the organization didn’t have money for Christmas decorations. I collected Christmas decorations and went to visit them with some fellow volunteers. Molly the therapy dog said hello to each one of the kids, and they had the opportunity to pet her, brush her, and “shake” her paw. The children were so happy to see her! The adults working at the center also had the opportunity to be with Molly.”

Molly’s presence was able to brighten the day of those in need, because of dedicated volunteers like Teresa. Pet Partners teams can change the lives of those they visit, or even just brighten a person’s day.

If you want to share your pet’s love and comfort with those in need, please visit petpartners.org/about-us/contact-us/ to let us know of your interest.

photo courtesy pxhere.com

For more information contact www.petpartners.org