SPRINGFIELD – For the past decade, members of Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy have not only volunteered their time, but also shared their four-legged companions with individuals throughout the Miami Valley in hopes of bringing comfort and joy to those in hospitals and retirement communities, while also helping children learn to read.
Founded in August 2006, Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy consists of 80 members who help the nonprofit organization provide pet therapy services throughout the area, primarily in Clark, Champaign, Miami and Montgomery counties.
A Springfield resident and president of the nonprofit, Norma Raiff said the organization is guided by two founding principles.
“First, to raise awareness of the benefits of pet assisted therapy in a variety of settings including hospitals, retirement communities, schools, libraries and adult day care centers, and, secondly, to help people and their pets interested in becoming pet assisted therapy teams to realize this worthwhile goal,” she said.
Based in Springfield, the organization has made Urbana a second home of sorts, as pet therapy teams can often be seen out and about at local facilities like CRSI, Vancrest, Mercy McAuley Center and Mercy Memorial Hospital.
Along with making pet therapy visits, Raiff said, members also give presentations to businesses and organizations on the benefits of pet therapy, while providing dog bite prevention education to local schools and organizations.
Time well spent
Pet therapy teams receive no compensation for the services they provide as it’s strictly volunteer, but for a dog lover like Raiff, spending time with her K-9s and making a person’s day a bit brighter at the same time is an experience money can’t buy.
“When I visit a medical center, hospice or nursing home, I enjoy being able to take the patient’s mind off of their current medical issue and bring a smile to their face while visiting with my dog,” she said.
Raiff recalled one visit in particular to a nursing home where a lady thanked her for visiting and told her people don’t realize how lonely it can be there.
“Hearing this pulled at my heart strings, giving me great satisfaction in my visit,” she said. “Mission accomplished.”
A dog owner her entire life, Raiff currently has three rescue dogs – Gray, Bailey and Bella.
Gary, a Maltese, and Bailey, a miniature poodle, can be found accompanying Raiff as part of her pet therapy team as she volunteers her time as often as she can to meet demand.
“There just aren’t enough pet therapy dogs to visit everyone waiting for a pet therapy visit,” she said.
While there are no prerequisites for joining Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy, there is a yearly membership fee of $25 per family.
Raiff said the organization’s members fall into one of the following categories:
•Individuals with a dog who want to join and who plan to test for therapy work.
•Individuals who do not have a qualifying dog but are interested in promoting the field of pet assisted therapy.
•Corporate entities interested in fostering the field of pet assisted therapy through fiscal sponsorship.
For those individuals interested in taking part in pet therapy work, the organization offers free training sessions in Springfield four times a year. The sessions are open to members and nonmembers.
The next session of classes will take place in the fall from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 10, 17 and 24.
To participate, the following criteria must be met:
•All dogs must be at least 1 year old.
•Handlers must have owned or known their dogs for a minimum of three months.
•No obedience will be taught, so dogs participating must be calm, friendly, and able to take behavior commands from their owners.
•Handlers and their dogs must attend all three classes.
Raiff added along with the pet therapy training session, the organization features Alliance of Therapy Dogs Inc. (ATD)-licensed testers/observers for members interested in seeking membership in ATD, the Wyoming-based national organization for therapy dogs that provides registration, support and insurance for members involved in volunteer animal-assisted activities throughout the country, U.S. territories and Canada.
“No matter who tests the teams, there is a fee that is sent into Alliance of Therapy Dogs for membership with that organization, Raiff said, adding pet therapy teams don’t have to be members of ATD to provide pet therapy services, but that it does have its benefits. “Being a member of Alliance of Therapy Dogs gives the team a $5 million liability policy that goes with the team on visits.”
For more information on the fall training session or to schedule an appointment with an ATD-licensed observer/tester, contact Raiff at 937-215-9172 or email Bfriends2006@gmail.com. The nonprofit can also be reached on its website at www.bestfriendspetassistedtherapy.org.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.