I really enjoy getting involved with my community, which in this case is Austin, Texas. And I find that my dogs do as well. They are very social, in fact much more social than I am. For them, volunteering has become an important part of their work week. It is truly something they enjoy and get excited about when they see me getting ready.
An organization that I am very proud to be associated with is the Delta Society, which is a non-profit that supports and promotes the human-animal bond in many ways. If you are interested in learning more about how animals are used therapeutically this is a great resource. For many personal and touching stories check out their blog. They also have a Pet Partners Program which tests, screens , and registers teams interested in volunteering with their dog (or cat, horse, bunny, etc.). Many organizations require that you be registered with Delta before you even begin their specific volunteer training program.
A Channel 8 news team recently visited the Center For Child Protection here in Austin. This video shows a bit of that story and mentions the sort of work therapy dogs do there . My English Bulldog, Daisy, figures prominently in the story (sorry for the brag but I am an unabashed braggart when it comes to my dogs! ) This facility focuses on providing support to children who have been involved in abusive situations. This is just one example of over one hundred venues in Austin that include Pet Partners teams. Austin Dog Alliance is a non-profit in Austin doing a wonderful job of promoting this sort of community involvement. They have shown hundreds of people how they can benefit their community by volunteering with their dogs in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, women’s shelters and many other venues. Take a look at their site for some ideas of ways to volunteer in your community.
Volunteering Benefits All Involved
Not only are you bringing joy to others, you may actually be improving their health. Studies have shown that the benefits can be enormous when a therapy team is present and range from lowering blood pressure, reducing loneliness, and lowering the stress that children feel during a medical or dental exam. And dog owners are generally healthier than non-dog owners in several ways. Their cholesterol is lower, they are less likely to die from a heart attack than non-dog owners, and generally have a better sense of well-being.
Dogs Are Social Too
And many truly enjoy the interactions. But of course, since you know your dog best, you will have to decide whether it is a good fit. I have one dog who loves it and is well suited especially to working with kids. There aren’t any young kids in my family, but through volunteering, I have been able to provide her access to kids and she loves it. On the other hand, I have one who would pass the test but who really wouldn’t enjoy it. She isn’t a “people person” and though she is tolerant it wouldn’t be much fun for her. There is a huge range of possibilities though so there is a good chance you could find a venue suited to you and your dog. Women’s shelters, children’s advocacy groups, rehab centers, and nursing homes are just a few of the possibilities. A fairly new and very successful program is the R.E.A.D. Program, which has been extremely successful in actually improving reading skills of kids by allowing them to read aloud to therapy dogs. Kids with low self-esteem are often uncomfortable reading in front of their classmates but are quite comfortable reading aloud to a non-judgemental canine.
Image Credit: alicejamieson on flickr and Cheekunlol flickr