Pets as Therapy Volunteers: How to Get Your Four-Legged Friends Involved

By Sher Warkentin in Helping Hands

Cuddling up with your pet at the end of a long day can work wonders to relieve stress and boost your mood, which is why choosing pets as therapy volunteers is such a creative way to give back. Whether it’s a comforting cuddle or a listening ear, animals have a lot to offer. The best part about volunteering with your pets is that it gives you a chance to strengthen your own bond while benefiting your community.

How To Get Started

Before you can begin, you need to get your pet evaluated to make sure your cat or dog has the right temperament and discipline to be a therapy animal. There are many national and local pet therapy programs you can get involved with that will not only evaluate your pet, but also train you and match you with volunteer programs. Pet Partners is one of the more extensive national organizations for both cats and dogs, as well as other animals, while Therapy Dogs International is an organization for dogs and their owners. Once you have passed evaluations and been trained to work with those in need, you can get started with some volunteer opportunities they offer.

Visit Patients In Hospitals

A hospital stay, especially an extended one, is never easy, but spending time cuddling and with a friendly animal can brighten a patient’s day. Beyond assisting those in need, volunteering with your pet at a hospital may allow you to overcome your own (or your child’s) anxieties about illnesses and doctors.

Therapy Cat Visiting A Senior

Spend Time With Seniors

For seniors in assisted living, those in Alzheimer’s care, and even in hospice, regular visits with therapy animals offer something to look forward to in the daily routine. Physical contact with pets can bolster happiness and fight feelings of depression and loneliness. Besides your pet’s companionship, visiting with the elderly is an opportunity to form your own relationships with seniors who have a wealth of life experiences they can share with your family.

Teach Kids In Schools

Kids tend to learn well with hands-on lessons, which is why having real pets as therapy volunteers in classrooms and libraries can assist with educational programs related to animals. For example, your dog or cat could prepare students to understand animal safety and how to properly meet and handle animals they don’t know.

Therapy dog ready to volunteer.

Read With Kids

It might sound far-fetched that your dog can actually help a child develop her reading skills, but just offering a nonjudgmental, listening ear makes a world of difference for many young readers. It’s intimidating for some kids to read out loud in the classroom, but reading to a dog allows children to practice without feeling stressed or anxious. Programs like R.E.A.D. Reading Educations Assistance Dogs Program and BARK Therapy Dogs exist across the country, where you and your dog can be tested and spend time with kids as they practice reading out loud. Besides the rewards of giving back, watching a child build confidence is an amazing experience.

Be A Foster Family

Another way therapy with animals is useful is by offering other animals in need some companionship and assistance. Many rescued pets are anxious, scared, and have trouble socializing with others. A foster family, especially one that already has pets, provides these animals an opportunity to socialize and prepare to be adopted into a permanent home. Fostering an animal also teaches your kids about empathy, and why rescuing pets is so important in general.

If your pet doesn’t fit the requirements needed to be a therapy animal, there are many other ways you can volunteer together. You can donate blood for transfusions, participate in pet-friendly walk-a-thon fundraisers, and even simply bring your pet to work to raise awareness about adoption.

What are some ways you have volunteered with your dog or cat? Show off pics of your philanthropic pets on Twitter.

Image sources: Flickr | Flickr | Flickr

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Using pets as therapy volunteers is a great way to give back to the community, while at the same time spending time bonding with your favorite animal. Many volunteer programs that involve therapy animals, like visiting with seniors and working with kids, offer a rewarding experience for both those in need and your own family.