Milka makes people smile and he loves attention so I figured that visiting seniors’ homes or hospitals would be the ideal volunteer position for both him and me. After attending a human-only info session, having the vet complete forms and having a criminal record check – it was time for the practical test.
St John Ambulance’s Pet Therapy program put us through the paces! We had a 2 1/2 hour test. There were five other dogs in the room at the same time, which made it even more difficult. We had to do a series of tests including being scared by a loud noise, having a wheelchair roll by, being pet by several people at a time, walking through a moving crowd.
Milka was good but the other dogs were perfect so I wasn’t sure if we would pass. We had a few things going against us too, which were mostly my fault. The treats distracted him a little too much. We arrived five minutes late. I had to buy him a certain type of collar and leash – but the collar was far too big, and he slipped out of it as soon as we got to the exam. And he ran to a nearby dog to play! And since he didn’t have his usual harness on, he choked a little bit a few times.
Once we have a facility chosen we will visit once a week. The patients/residents will get to play and pet Milka – and Milka is going to eat it up!
If you think your pet would make a great visitor, St John Ambulance is always looking for more volunteers. I encourage you to give your time.
The rationale behind pet therapy, copied from a North Shore News story.
An American child psychiatrist named Boris Levinson coined the phrase “pet therapy” in 1964. Levinson used his dog in sessions with severely withdrawn children. The dog served as an ice-breaker, enabling Levinson to establish a rapport and begin therapy with the children.
Scientists and health-care professionals have since put the psychiatrist’s theory into practice in a wide variety of settings. Study after study has shown that pet companionship can improve morale and communication, bolster self-esteem and increase quality of life.
Depressed patients in long-term care facilities have become more animated when visited by dogs and cats. Prison inmates allowed to take care of birds and small animals have become less violent and more responsible. Terminally ill cancer patients have been found to be more carefree following visits by four-legged friends. Children with learning disabilities, persons with AIDS and the emotionally disturbed have also benefited from visits from an animal.
Pet therapy advocates cite studies that have shown that stroking and petting a dog – even being in the same room as a dog – has a calming effect on people, reducing blood pressure and heart rate.