By: Ian McCracken
With an organization of 11,000 therapy animal teams in the United States (and 40 abroad), Pet Partners can provide service to millions, literally.
Formerly known as the Delta Society, Pet Partners serves 1 million people annually and has 70 affiliate organizations internationally. Recognizable organizations like ASPCA are Pet Partner Affiliates, meaning they are among the top animal service providers in the country.
Thirty-seven years ago, the then Delta Foundation was started by a group of three revolutionary men in the world of animal medicine: Dr. Leo K. Bustad, Dr. Michael J. McCulloch, and Dr. William “Bill” McCulloch. They noticed animals were having positive healthful effects on humans, even though they were regarded at the time as "just animals."
Today, being a Pet Partners service team is a major accomplishment and honor. Service teams provide a wide array of beneficial acts that only a non-profit this large could provide.
What Can't They Do?
Pet Partners’ slogan, “Touching Lives, Improving Health,” has rung true over the years with pairs visiting patients in 307 hospitals, many of which devoted to the care of children.
Visits don’t just start and end at the hospital, however. Dogs visited college campuses to help reduce stress during finals season. Spartacus, a service dog in southwest Connecticut, helped families cope with the Sandy Hook shooting and Metro North derailment. Dogs are not the only therapy animal, though. Cats, other exotic animals, and even horses have brought relief to those lacking companionship. Pet Partners is also dedicated to helping soldiers deal with post-combat disorders and injuries, as well.
So often, though, we tend to forget the bond not between patient and animal, but owner and animal. Service is rewarding for both parties: a recipient can receive happiness from the visits and an owner can leave feeling proud of what they accomplish in a day.
Becoming a Pair
How does one know when their dog is fit to be a therapy dog? The reality is there is no set definition. Some, like Anne Pryzbyla and her dog, Katie, travel on unique journeys. Pryzbyla inherited Katie from her neighbor, Jane, who rescued the dog from her owner who lived down the street. She, however, became discouraged when bonding with Katie took longer than she hoped.
Pryzbyla visited an animal communicator because of her concerns with bonding and Katie’s separation anxiety. The communicator, to the dismay of Pryzbyla, said Katie would make a great service dog. The prospect was entertained further when Katie and her owner went to a local Pet Partners meeting on becoming a therapy pair.
Failing the Good Citizen test their first time around, however, did not discourage the two. Lisa Knowles, dog trainer and Denver Pet Partners member, mentored and prepared the duo from that point until their next examination. With Knowles' help, Pryzbyla accomplished her long-sought goal of becoming a Pet Partners Therapy Team. They have gone on to serve in Denver area hospitals, finding fulfillment in every visit.
With the $7,500 grant from the Planet Dog Foundation, additional team evaluators will be hired and trained. Pet Partner evaluators are the crutch of the organization's success. They determine which pairs are ready to provide assistance to those in need. With improper training, they may accept those not yet ready to serve. With a short staff, prospective pairs will have to wait longer to be registered, hindering the service process.
Their addition will result in the increase of therapy pairs for Pet Partners already impressive staff. The more hands (and paws) on board, the more this organization can do to provide help, health, and happiness.