By Peg Price, F282681
My dog, Denali , a malamute (Alaskan sled dog), and I became Pet Partners in spring 2002 through the Pet Visitation Program at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. This program trains animals and their handlers for visits to hospitals, children's homes, convalescent homes and other facilities.
Denali is a gentle dog who loves people, so I thought this would be a wonderful activity for her. So far, we've visited an Alzheimer's home in Phoenix, the Tucson Medical Center, and an assisted-living home. Denali seems to enjoy visiting older folks best, but this fall we plan to visit a local hospital and possibly a Veterans Administration hospital.
If you're an RVer and you have a pet that likes to be with people, I highly recommend Pet Partners. It's a win-win situation for everyone.
The Pet Visitation Program is an affiliate of Delta Society's Pet Partners Program. Delta Society links volunteers with facilities in their own communities that request visiting pets. Because Denali and I live and travel full-time in a motorhome, we're able to visit participating facilities throughout the United States, not just in Arizona, our winter home. We're one of more than 6,400 Pet Partners teams in 50 states and four countries.
Many animals can become Pet Partners: dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, goats, llamas, donkeys, chickens, cockatoos, potbellied pigs, miniature pigs, African gray parrots, domesticated rats.
All animals except birds must have lived in the owner's home for at least six months. Birds must have lived in the owner's home for at least one year. Other prerequisites are posted at the Delta Society's Web site.
To ensure that Denali and I were prepared to participate in animal-assisted therapy programs, we had to complete the Pet Partners Team Training Course. The first requirement involved a temperament test in which Denali and I met strangers. Evaluators watched her closely, mainly looking for any signs of aggression. Several dogs failed this test and were out of the program. Denali did great and we moved on to the next phase.
To acquire the skills needed, we attended several workshops spread out over several weeks. Topics included:
- selecting and preparing animals for visits
- identifying and decreasing stress in animals
- animal health and safety
- special needs of client groups
- interacting with special people
- facility health and safety codes
- patient confidentiality
After we completed the workshops, Denali had to pass a physical exam administered by her regular veterinarian. All Pet Partner animals must have received rabies immunization as mandated by state law, and other vaccinations as dictated by a veterinarian. They must be free of internal and external parasites, infections and illnesses.
The Pet Partners Aptitude Test assesses how well the pet and handler interact with the evaluator and evaluator's assistants during a simulated visit. The evaluators act as though they are in a facility.
Part of the aptitude testing involved Denali and I walking in a crowd as people approached us: people with canes, people in wheelchairs, and people gesturing loudly. Denali was exposed to loud metal food carts, hands reaching out to pet her, and other sights and sounds.
Denali and I did well on the tests, though the evaluators said she whined a bit when I had to leave her in a large room full of strangers while I sat silently outside out of view for several minutes.
Denali also had to:
- allow a stranger to examine her all over endure clumsy petting
- let someone give her a restraining hug
- stay calm while listening to angry yelling
- Show no aggressive reaction to being bumped from behind
- be able to pass by a neutral dog and not react
- be given a treat and told to "leave it"
- "come," "stay," "sit," lie down," "stay"
Denali fared well on these tests, too, as I gently reassured her everything was okay. The evaluators told me later that our close bond and her responsiveness to me impressed them. This was good to hear, for I was very nervous during the testing and concerned that Denali would feel that right through the leash.
Denali and I passed the training program together, as a team. We had a graduation party. Denali is now an official Pet Partner until December 2003, when we will begin the renewal process.
Pet Partner Program, Delta Society
Humane Society of Southern Arizona.