• Students, anxious about final exams, seem less stressed and more focused
• Elderly residents in assisted living facilities are less solitary, more engaged and active …
• Alzheimer’s patients find comfort and feel calmer…
• Children, struggling with reading, become more relaxed and receptive…
What’s the common denominator? All of these individuals are benefiting from a visit with a PAWS for People pet therapy team.
PAWS for People is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides one-on-one animal-assisted therapy to children and adults with physical, social and emotional challenges.
Founded in 2005 by former teacher, Lynne Robinson, PAWS for People has grown to be the largest pet therapy organization in the mid-Atlantic region, with close to 500 teams of dedicated individuals and their therapy pets serving more than 160 facilities throughout Delaware and parts of PA, NJ and MD. Visitation sites include hospitals, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer’s units, chemotherapy treatment rooms; physical and occupational rehabilitation; hospices; and drug and alcohol treatment centers.
A PAWS therapy team consists of a person and his or her pet - usually a dog, but cats and even rabbits are welcome. Once they are members, teams are required to complete stringent training to ensure they can provide the most effective interaction with therapy recipients. Upon certification, team members must agree to visit at least two times per month - many exceed this requirement by working at community events or attending special PAWS education-based events. Teams must be re-certified every two years.
Pet therapy offers a multitude of benefits
According to Robinson, ”It’s well known - and scientifically proven - that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits. Our mission is to lovingly provide elders, children, and folks with disabilities individualized, therapeutic visits with a gentle, affectionate pet. Our focus is on the healing aspect of pet therapy and our highly trained teams aim to provide the best possible visit for all those involved - the recipients, the therapy companion and the pet.”
Pet therapy has been shown to improve both mental and physical health among adults and seniors of all ages. For example, a visit from a pet therapy team can help decrease isolation, agitation, boredom and depression; reduce loneliness; provide comfort and a calming sensation; and, in some cases, bridge communication gaps. From a physical perspective, pet therapy has been shown to stabilize blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, improve cardiovascular health and diminish overall physical pain. The very act of petting can produce an automatic relaxation response.
PAWS offers a multitude of programs
Through Executive Director, Lynne Robinson’s, vision and guidance, PAWS now offers programs in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, treatment centers, hospice organizations, and dementia/Alzheimers units PLUS a range of specialized programming that serves varying populations. Some examples include: The PAWS Courthouse Canines program which was created to provide therapy teams to assist children who are going through our court process. The PS (Psychiatric Support) PAWS program that trains therapy teams to work with individuals in mental health facilities - helping to increase motivation, lessen anxiety and, ultimately give patients hope for the future. The PAWS by Special Request program enables individuals to request a personalized visit with a PAWS therapy team. PAWS for Reading teams provide reading sessions in schools and libraries to help children enjoy reading while improving their literacy skills with the comfort and encouragement of an affectionate cat or dog. The PAWS Autism Initiative and Pre-K PAWS programs help assist pre-readers and children on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum. The Student De-Stress program has found wide success as therapy teams visits college and university campuses during exam time to help students relax, unwind and take a break from their studying.
PAWS community presence
PAWS teams are everywhere. Often teams will participate in an event to help an organization that supports the people PAWS serves, e.g., the Downs Syndrome Association Buddy Walk, NAMI Walk, etc. Many times teams attend community events simply to engage the public, recruit new teams and volunteers, and raise awareness of PAWS and its services. According to Clarice Ritchie, Community Engagement Director, “It’s been rewarding to see the wonderful response from the community to our participation in these events. It reinforces the strong impact PAWS continues to have throughout our region.”
The road ahead
As PAWS for People continues to expand both teams and programs, Robinson looks ahead: “We recently relocated to a new facility in Newark which gives us more flexibility for training and program development. In addition, we are looking forward to extending our reach even farther into Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Training sessions for potential PAWS pet therapy teams in these areas, as well as here in Delaware, are held four times monthly and the response has been terrific. The public has demonstrated its value for pet therapy and the myriad benefits it provides through its continued interest in and demand for our programs.”
To learn more about PAWS for People, become a therapy team, or to request PAWS services, visit the website www.pawsforpeople.org or call (302) 351-5622.